Black and White Skull

5/9/12 – Black and White Drawing of  a Mexican Skull

This week I decided to draw another Mexican skull within one of my notebooks. In the past, drawing has never been my area of expertise although the work in progress that I have complete so far has enabled me to draw a basic outline of a skull. For an entire year, I have been trying to teach myself how to draw a skull and I thought this would be a great starting point.

The drawings have also provided ideas for the style of the make up that is used to create my own interpretations of the Mexican sugar skulls. The drawings have initiated a close analysis into  the different patterns and designs within the Mexican skulls. There are at least four questions that I am currently trying to find the answers for.

1. Why are there circles around the eye sockets?

2. Why do the Mexican skulls have a love heart shaped nose?

3. Why is there a cross on the top of the forehead?

4. Why are the Mexican skulls decorated with flowers or other floral patterns?

In the “Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico”, Carmicheal and Sayar explain that religious iconography from the Catholic church was introduced to the indigenous community during the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century. The image of the cross, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ were included into the Day of the Dead Festival that has become an emblem of Mexico’s national identity. These images are also included into the Ofrendas that invite the spirits to the celebration each year through the colourful decorations and designs. According to Carmichael and Sayar, the dead extract the essences from the Ofrendas that also include  food, water and the person’s favourite possessions.

Carmicheal and Sayar have also conducted interviews with local Mexicans who provide a detailed description about their own culture and heritage in terms of the Day of the Dead celebration. Maria Antonieta explains that the Spanish Invasion and the indigenous beliefs within “pre Hispanic Mexico’ have influenced the Ofrendas that are associated with the Day of the Dead.

Artist Unknown: Example of a Mexican Ofrenda

Antonieta quotes “As with most ofrendas pre – Hispanic and Spanish merge. We always burn incense, because it purifies; when it rises, it carries our prayers to heaven. There is a cross because Christ must be present in all ofrendas and candles. Flowers have been an important since the pre Conquest times; Cempasuchil flowers are like the sun; they guide the souls of the dead to earth”. (Antonieta, Carmicheal & Sayar, 2003) Antonieta’s explanations may provide the reason as to why the Mexican skulls feature religious symbology and floral patterns or designs.

I am still unsure why the Mexican skulls have circles around the eye sockets or why they have a love shaped nose, although I am determined to find the answers to these questions. I also attach all of my drawings to my wardrobe door that allows me to take a step back and actually consider the shape and the design of the Mexican skulls. Last Tuesday, when I have in bed I had a dozen skulls staring directly at me, which was a strange experience. It was the first time that the skull has invited me to consider my own mortality. I was suddenly aware of my existence that is something that I haven’t experienced before.

Carmichael, Elizabeth & Sayar, Chloe “The Skeleton at the Feast, The Day of the Dead in Mexico” (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2003) p.120-121

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