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Indigenous Mexican Art

Steven is a seasoned traveler that has spent considerable time in Mexico and other Latin American countries along the Caribbean.

Bright colors and patterns mark the Dia de los Muertos

Decorative calaveras or skulls are the main prop of the dia del a muerte festivals, or the day of the dead.

Decorative calaveras or skulls are the main prop of the dia del a muerte festivals, or the day of the dead.

The Days of the Dead

To most of the world's inhabitants a skull is a dark, ominous symbol representing death or the ghoulish at the very least. It has a very different meaning for Latin Americans, particularly Mexican's, than to the rest of the world. There was a cycle of life for the tribes of Pre-Columbian Mexico, a circle of birth and death that was accepted as natural and not to be feared. Over time, and with much Catholic influence, the annual festival honoring the dead blended with the Catholic holidays All Saints Day and All Souls Day to become what we know today as Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

The object of this festival is not to strike fear into the hearts of children, or dress in ghoulish costumes and beg for treats, rather, the two days are holy and to be regarded with the deepest respect. It is during this festival that the dead return to Earth for a day to accept offerings presented on an alter known as an ofrenda. The people remember their dead relatives and honor their memories with feasting and dancing. While calavera are technically Death heads, the colorful decorations and playful artwork remove the fear normally associated with them.

Mexicans celebrate the festival by creating intricately painted ceramic and paper-mache skulls, as well as a host of candied variants for consumption. In addition to the calavera, many artisans design similarly skeletal figurines of small pets like cats and dogs. Walking through a Dia de los Muertos festival, and the weeks preceding and following, and revelers can purchase these items for next to nothing. When they are purchased online they tend to factor in importing taxes and shipping costs. Some calavera can run into the hundreds of dollars depending on their construction and quality.

Authentic Talavera must be made in Pueblo, Mexico


The Art of Talavera: forged in bondage

Talavera is another mesmerizing product of indigenous origins with a rich history with the people of Mexico. The process and materials used to create authentic Talavera has been dated as far back as the 16th century. In the 1600's the art form underwent many improvements under the guidance of Spanish guilds to become a product that is today uniquely Mexican.

A by-product of fame is imitation and in regards to Talavera not the most flattering form. Vendors all over Mexico began slapping the name Talavera to the bottom of every ceramic figurine, vessel, or plate in order to ride the coat tails of its success. In response to this the Mexican government created the Mexican Regulatory Council of Talavera. Under the oversight of this organization production shops must operate within the state of Puebla, Mexico and the surrounding cities of Tecali, Cholula, and Atlixco and must follow the exact fabrication procedures used since the 16th century. Each piece of authentic Talavera will come with a DO4 authentication number and the signature of the shop that produced it displayed proudly on its base.

Aztec Art

The Aztec people of the northeastern region of Mexico had very unique concepts of art that are very much in contrast to those western standards of aesthetics. The Aztecs did not believe that an object was created in order to be appreciated for its own sake. Instead every artistically rendered work served to fulfill a duty or a function in terms of military, political, and religious directives. It instructed and challenged its artisans to contribute more to the betterment of society than to simply evoke an emotional response to a sculpture or a painting. Aztec art was a pure, naturally motivated desire to blend form and function, a technique that is lost on the majority of artists that claim fame in the centuries that past.

The area between the Pacific and Zacatecas belonged to the Huichol people

The Huichol are famous for their colorful beadwork


Huichol: The tribe that saved its culture through isolation

The Huichol are a Native American people of western Mexico that have a long history of rebelling against modern integration. They were placed under the yoke of Spanish rule in the 15th century and used to mine the recently discovered ore. After the harsh treatment at the hands of their Spanish Conquistadors the Huichol migrated to the Bolanos Canyon and joined forces with the Tepecano people. In 1592 a revolt was staged against the Spaniards in El Tuel with unknown results.

To this day the Huichol fiercely resist the pressure to convert to Christianity and hold on resolutely to the practices of animism and shamanism. It is this isolationist attitude that has led to the preservation of their art and religious rituals. An integral aspect of their religion is the annual pilgrimage to the state of San Luis Potosi to gather peyote, hikuri in their native language, a hallucinogenic flower that grows on cacti. Through the influence of the peyote the Huichol pay homage to their ancestors and the various animal spirits that are held sacred to them. In much of the yarn paintings and intricate beadwork that sustains some villages and has made them famous, this devotion to their deities is abundantly clear. Corn, deer, and the peyote flower are depicted regularly.

Indigenous tribes possess the amazing talents of old

These rare and lasting legacies have remained intact for hundreds or thousands of years despite the insistence to evolve and abandon their ways. While the Day of the Dead festivities are a compromise between pagan rites and their catholic masters, the traditions of the Huichol people are a brazen refusal to change.

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© 2012 Steven P Kelly


Steven P Kelly (author) from Tampa, FL on March 23, 2012:

Thanks Southern Honey! Dia de los Muertos really is a great celebration, I hear it is picking up speed in the US as a hipster holiday. The trendy thing to do.

Allison from San Diego, CA on March 22, 2012:

Very interesting hub! I’ve always been fascinated by the artwork surrounding the Day of the Dead. What a beautiful and unique tradition. And I had no knowledge of the Huichol at all – it’s always nice to see culture prevail over modernity.

Steven P Kelly (author) from Tampa, FL on March 08, 2012:

Chico! Me encanta esa frase! "No quiero morir el pecado los antes haber amado, pero tampoco quiero morir de amor. "

Chido carnal.

PaulStaley1 from With the wind---(or against it) on March 08, 2012:

No quiero morir sin antes haber amado,

Pero tampoco quiero morir de amor.

Calaveras y diablitos...

Invaden mi corazon.

Buen trabajo amigo----

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