Dead on Arrival

The corpse as art

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In Mexico, those who have passed on to another plane of existence—yes, I mean those have died—are rarely forgotten. 

Proof of this can be found every year in early November, when family members and friends celebrate their lives via Dia de los Muertos—otherwise known as Day of the Dead. The events take place November 1 and 2, and often feature those seeking connections with their dearly departed visiting graves with gifts of their loved ones’ favorite foods and, sometimes, a few of their possessions.

Our southern neighbors aren’t the only ones who use Dia de los Muertos as a valid excuse to celebrate the dead. Parades featuring elaborate skull-related costumes are common in many cities across the United States, and Bellingham itself has hosted a few events over the years—complete with art, altars, music and even processions.

Although there’s not a parade scheduled for this year, that doesn’t mean residents don’t have any access to related revelry.

In addition to checking out a month-long Day of the Dead Art show currently on display at the Lucky Monkey, those who are interested in making their faces resemble lovely skulls can do so during their various Halloween celebrations. A Day of the Dead Storytelling event also takes with the historical hussies known as the Good Time Girls Nov. 2 at the Redlight—a State Street site that is also the locale where, in 1905, one of Bellingham’s most gruesome murders took place (the grisly details will be revealed later that night).

If you can get enough people together, you might also consider hosting your own party or procession sometime during the week—either on Halloween proper or on the Mexican holiday.

When it comes to costumes, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.

“The skull is an important theme, with sugar skulls offered to the dead and living,” reads a tutorial on http://www.squidoo.com

“The sugar skull has influenced the face painting and costumes that can be seen alongside the more traditional skull-shaped masks in Day of the Dead celebrations,” the how-to continues. “The makeup is based on the traditional skull with darkened eye and nose sockets, but also includes intricate and sometimes colorful details on the rest of the face. These include petals around the eye sockets plus a spiderweb on the forehead and often hearts and flowers.”

As marigolds are one of the most important symbols of Day of the Dead festivities—during the holiday, they are traditionally scattered around the floor, streets and even graveyards in Mexico—the bright yellow flower is also often incorporated into the mix when it comes time to put a costume together. Similarly, skulls of many shapes and sizes are often sported—either via face paint or as a fearsome accessory.

For more pointers and inspiration, you may want to head to the Lucky Monkey to get a closer look at the fifth-annual exhibit, which will hang through Dia de los Muertos (Nov. 2). In addition to the pieces created by local artists, there are also unique thematic offerings and sculptures from both Mexico and Peru to peruse.

While some may use the opportunity to dress up as an attractive corpse as an excuse to party, try to keep your departed loved ones in mind as you prepare for your funereal festivities. They may be gone, but they’re not forgotten—and they might be watching.

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