30 July 2009

A Light Subject for a Change


I had lunch yesterday for the second time at El Pegaso up town, a great restaurant with reasonably priced food and very professional and helpful, mature waiters. All the art works on display appear to be by a single artist, whom I will have to credit by name later. Those art works for the most part are hanging boxes with little multi-media tableaux in them comparable to the famous Joseph Cornell boxes that I delight in so much.

This artist's works are small and there must be nearly a hundred little boxes hung around the restaurant. He or she deploys Mexican images and colors with his or her boxes, Mexicans obviously having embraced a different color wheel than norteamericanos have in which, as only one example, orange complements red. And there is nothing wrong with that, I hasten to add.

Here is my point. At least a third of these little hanging boxes feature images of death, many rather macabre. The artist also has on display paper-mâché skulls to which collage has been applied. So there I am eating my mid-afternoon Mexican lunch amid a bunch of death's heads.

My impression is that this is typical of Mexico generally, that is, wherever you turn you run the risk of being ass deep in images of death. There are skulls and skeletons in the oddest locations placed in contexts that inspire discomfort.

I do not know whether this is part and parcel of the same phenomenon, but the funeral parlors—and I purposely use that phrase which is now archaic in the United States—the funeral parlors have window displays of their caskets. Folks here can browse for caskets from the street--adult's caskets, children's caskets, the whole product line. And on and on it goes.

I explicitly asked Maria from Columbia if this is a Latin American thing or strictly a Mexican thing. She insisted that it is the latter and professed to be as perplexed by it all as I am.

There has to be a reason for this. I will tell you in advance that I will not be convinced that this is simply an honoring of dead ancestors. There is much more to it. Is this a way for members of a culture to inure themselves to the troubling mysteries of death? Is the idea that if you are surrounded by images of death, then you will soon get used to and comfortable with the idea of your own demise? That is my working hypothesis right now.


I think one of the keys to understanding this better is to better understand the forthcoming November 2 holiday, the Day of the Dead, which takes Halloween to levels beyond one's norteamericano imagination. That article by Dale Hoyt Palfrey is helpful and quite eloquent, but it does not come close to answering my questions. I understand what Octavio Paz is saying that the Mexican is doing, but I would like to know why he is doing it.

2 comments:

Ruth said...

Years ago I took a course in Mexican and Chicano Art History. You are absolutely right about the skulls/death/colors thing. At the time, we must have discussed the WHY you're so interested in, but at least this morning my brain file drawer won't open on that particular subject.

Do go eat at that restaurant again. I wonder if I could google up the artist. I have one of those little Mexican type box thingies, done by David Rosales. I love it. Wouldn't mind having another.

Señor Steve said...

It has become my favorite restaurant, Ruthie. I certainly will be returning soon and will get the name of the artist.