By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Back in the 1910, Mexican printmaker, engraver and newspaper cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada frequently used images of human skulls and bareboned skeletons to make political and cultural critiques of what he perceived of as the absurdities of Mexican society.
One of his most famous skeletal images was that of Catrina, an elegant skull dressed only in an oversized plumed hat — her chapeau en attende — which was intended as a sarcastic reference to early 20th century European fashion.
Posada’s message with the portraits of the dapper young Catrina was clear: He felt that too many Mexicans were desperately trying to emulate European aristocratic traditions in the pre-revolution era, which was supposed to be focused on equality and an end of the elitist class system.
Over the last 100 years, Posada’s prolific collection of engraved skeletal figures have become a pervasive element of Mexican art and culture, but none quite so much as the debonair Catrina.
In recent years, Catrina has also become an ineffaceable icon of Mexico’s Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, which officially occurs on Nov. 1 and 2, but with lead-up festivities starting as early as mid-October.
For the last five years, the Mexico City Tourism Secretariat has been organizing an anual Procesión de Catrinas (Catrina Parade) down Avenida Paseo de la Reforma in the days leading up to the Día de Muertos, and this year was no exception.
On Sunday, Oct. 21, more than 1,000 men, women and children — all decked out in formal garb with whitened faces and darkened eye pits — participated in the procession that began at the Ángel de Independencia and ended in the Centro Histórico at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Starting in midday and lasting up until the end of the two-hour procession, the Mexico City government workers and individual volunteers helped paint ghoulish faces on anyone who wanted to join in the fun, thus adding to the anticipation of this glamourous parade of the walking dead.