Victorianas Oscuras

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I will freely admit that when I was first invited to join the then newly formed Dark Victorians group, headed by Miss Violet Schnabel, Dame Lapin Paris and Miss Eladrienne Laval, I did not expect it to come to much. Perhaps an event or two, with Caledonians wearing spikey shoulder pads and putting on poor Transylvanian accents, but not much more. Another silent, dormant group taking up one of my precious 25 slots.

Happily, that has not been the case, I have found that the Dark Victorians have tended to stage well thought-out, interesting events true to being both Dark and Victorian without falling into the trite or stereotypical. A perfect example has just opened in Tanglewood at the Bunneh Hutch, where the Dark Victorians have created a small display highlighting both Caledonian and traditional artwork touching upon The Day of the Dead celebrations typical to Latin cultures.

There are so many elements of this exhibit which I feel are worthy and laudable, from the showcasing of local Caledonian artwork to the display of traditional folk artwork of Mexico to the spotlight shown on the two leading luminaries of Mexican art (as well as fascinating individuals, both together and individually), Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

I found the artwork all tasteful and well chosen to befit both the Day of the Dead and Halloween as well as Caledonian sensibilities. In addition, I was quite moved by the Ofrenda (memorial altar) erected in the gallery in honor of Rivera and Kahlo and whish there had been a way for me to leave some small tribute of my own such as a candle or (virtual) food offering. I feel that the “near” reality of Second Life and the at times allegorical absurdities we create and nurture would entrance both of these great artists.

I hope that this exhibit by the Dark Victorians indicates a growing maturity in Caledon as we embrace more non-English speaking cultures in our passion for memory and our honored past.

In addition, I hope it indicates that the Dark Victorians continue to develop from a niche group like so many others to a movement with a unique and vital perspective to offer our beloved Caledon. This Day of the Dead exhibit clearly shows that said perspective is needed and welcomed. My congratulations to Miss Schnabel, Dame Lapin and Miss Laval as well as the other artists for their excellent work here.

To see the exhibit for yourself, I provide the following SLURL.

A little bit about Dia de los Muertos from Wikipedia….

The Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos or Día de los Muertos in Spanish) is a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico and the Mexican immigrant community living in the United States, with variations of it also observed in other Latin American countries and other parts of the world. The Mexican celebration occurs on November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day).

Though the subject matter may be considered morbid from the perspective of some other cultures, celebrants typically approach the Day of the Dead joyfully, and though it occurs roughly at the same time as Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day, the traditional mood is much brighter with emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, and celebrating the continuation of life; the belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life. In Mexico and Mexican immigrant communities in the United States and Europe, the Day of the Dead is of particular cultural importance.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated to a lesser extent in other Latin American countries; for example, it is a public holiday in Brazil, where many Brazilians celebrate it by visiting cemeteries and churches. The holiday is also observed in the Philippines. Observance of the holiday in Mexican-American communities in the United States have become more important and widespread as the community grows both numerically and economically each generation. Similarly-themed celebrations also appear in some Asian and African culture.

Some Mexicans feel that death is a special occasion, but with elements of celebration, because the soul is passing into another life. Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of November 1 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate the graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigold called “cempasuchil”, originally named cempaxochitl, Nahuatl for “twenty flowers”, in modern Mexico this name is often replaced with the term “Flor de Muerto”, Spanish for “Flower of the Dead”. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”) or sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the “spiritual essence” of the ofrenda food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivity, they believe it lacks nutritional value. The pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes. These altars usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, and scores of candles. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing so when they dance the dead will wake up because of the noise. Some will dress up as the deceased.

Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.

Those with writing talent sometimes create short poems, called “calaveras” (“skulls”), mocking epitaphs of friends, sometimes with things they used to do in life. This custom originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, “and all of us were dead”, proceeding to “read” the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of José Guadalupe Posada. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for “skeleton”), and foods such as sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

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The charming “La Catrina y Su Esposo” (above) by Miss Eladrienne Laval which serves as a signature of the event.

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Paying my respects at the Ofrenda to Rivera and Kahlo (above)

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Yours truly (above), relaxing for a moment during my tour.

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“Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park” by Rivera (above)

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My favorite piece in the exhibit (above), the enigmatic and evocative “Still Standing” by Miss Fuschia Begonia.

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Yours truly with a Calavera by Jose Guadalupe Posada (above). I’m on the right.

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