11/9/08

Day of the Dead Altar Installation at the Communications Department, UCSD







On November 4th some students at the Communication Department in UCSD helped to install the second Day of the Dead Altar. This year, the altar was built as part of Professor Zeinabú Davis Production class. The altar was open for people to see it from November 4th until November 7th at the production room 140.

The Day of the Dead altar honored Herbert Schiller, the founder of the Department, and was based on his critical take on social issues and the news media. People brought some of their satyrical verses (calaveras) to be displayed at the altar.


These poems are used during this time of the year to criticize or protest public figures (especially politicians). It implies that a particular figure was taken by "la muerte" (la pelona) as punishment for his or her bad deeds. The poems offer the reasons why the figure is being taken: because they are evil, boring, stupid, or bad rulers. The verses can be short (one octave of a sonnet, etc). The verses can be rhyming or not; about one person, a type of person (politicians, academics, Hollywood figures, etc), group of people, a whole country, etc. Also it is common to exchange this verses among friends as a sign of friendship. Despite of this, the verses are still funny.

This installation combines the Pre-hispanic celebration of the dead, with the very contemporary social criticism that has evolved from this custom, especially since the Porfiriato era in Mexico (Dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz), when images of skeletons dressed very elegantly were shown in drawings to criticize the extreme social polarization that Mexican society faced during this time. These drawings by artist José Guadalupe Posada, helped to awaken the spirit of the Mexican Revolution. This type of art associated to the Day of the Dead and social criticism has evolved and it is very popular now among the Mexican-American and Latino community in California. The custom is rapidly moving to become "mainstream" and the "tradition" is becoming more and more syncretic, with pre-hispanic, and contemporary elements to it.

We are trying to establish a tradition and to take the more political side of this beautiful custom. The altar was a dedication to Herbert Schiller, and also to remember our friend Soe Feng Sim, with a piece of art that she gave to Dan Hallin. Dan offered this piece to be put in the altar to remember her as well. The piece is the Chinese painting that you see in the back of the photo. Personally I think this makes the altar more interesting and beautiful, and does not limit it to a particular region of the world. On the bottom of the altar, you can see some of the satyrical verses dedicated either to some of us (Magalí wrote two: one for me and another for Dan Hallin), or about politicians and public figures. There are also some Amaranto bread (Quinoa seed bread) at the bottom of the altar. Candy skulls used to be made of amaranto and honey, although you cannot find these skulls anymore, I found the amaranto bread in Tijuana.

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