“La Catrina:” The Mexican representation of Death

MERIDA Yucatan (Times Media Mexico) – “Día de Muertos” in Mexico has become one of the most iconic festivities of this country and has even managed to cross borders and oceans – most prominently – in the figure of the elegant skeleton lady of “La Catrina”. Yet where does she come from?

The Calavera Catrina was born in 1912 from the imagination of Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, but that wasn’t her name back then. Posada published the first illustration of this great dame of death under “La Calavera Garbancera” as a social criticism of the indigenous Mexican women who rejected their roots and tried to pass as European.

The Calavera Garbancera, by Posadas

The engraver was famous for his satirical rhymes, illustrated with skulls and skeletons, which he used to describe the political and religious matters of Mexico and aspects of daily life. Then how did she became La Catrina?

It was Mexican painter Diego Rivera who took the work of Posada and gave it a body. Literally. In his mural “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central” (1947) (“Dream of a Sunday Afternoon along Central Alameda”), Rivera painted the full-bodied skeleton lady as the central piece of his mural and called her “La Catrina,” the feminine version of the Catrin, a bon vivant dandy in Mexican culture.

First Catrina in Diego Rivera painting

In his mural, Diego Rivera featured the Catrina at the center, with a young version of himself on the left, and her creator, José Guadalupe Posada, on the right.

It is due to the merger of Mexico’s Prehispanic ideologies, the Mexican people’s historical focus on death – that is, their willingness to both laugh at it and embrace it with a loving familiarity – and the classism prevalent in the Mexican society that the Catrina became the embodiment not only of death as a neutralizing force between the rich and the poor but also, a powerful symbol of what the Day of the Dead in Mexico is all about. And it is becoming famous worldwide.

Maybe it was a mixture of the colors, the satire, the meaning, or perhaps  the evolving attitude towards death that have fixed this character as an icon, but regardless of the cause, “La Catrina” is here to stay.



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