Sunday, September 28, 2014

La Calavera Catrina joins the party (Hispanic Heritage Month)

Meet Catrina Calaveras. She has a livelier history than the nice man at the Arizona Latino Arts Center was willing to share.
A little milk with my tea, I think.
Catrina is a calaca -- a decorative skeleton associated with the Día de los Muertos -- but she's not just any calaca. Her origin is José Guadalupe Posada's print La Calavera Garbancera, the skeleton of the elegant dandy. The big hat and high style was intended as scathing commentary on Mexicans of indigenous origin who lightened their skin and adopted fancy clothes in order to imitate the European styles of the upper classes, rejecting their own heritage.

La Calavera Catrina, as she became known, was made famous by her inclusion in the Diego Rivera mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central), which was also intended as social commentary. At the center, the complacent bourgeoisie of the years before the revolution stroll with death, while oppression of indigenous people happens around them. Various pop-culture and political figures appear, including Frida Kahlo. Since Wikipedia has a permissible-to-use image, I'm going to embed it here, as we'll want it for comparison in a moment.

I'm the Diego Rivera original.
Prominently inside ALCA's gallery is this mural.

I'm the tribute at ALCA.
There's no doubt that it's a tribute to the Diego Rivera mural, as child-Rivera in his short pants is right there with Frida Kahlo, next to Catrina. It's otherwise different in tone, though. This turns out to be a commemoration of the artists who regularly work at/with ALCA, so the reason many faces look suspiciously like contemporary real people is that they are. They're posed unironically with icons of Mexican culture, as an expression of pride in the heritage. (Especially charming is the inclusion of the El Chapulín Colorado, the 1970s parody superhero who's one of the most popular characters in the history of Mexican television. I found an episode with Súper Sam, the imported U.S. superhero who vanquishes miscreants by hitting them with a bag of dollars. I can be generally pro-U.S. and still see why that would be hilarious.)

"Expression of heritage" is actually what Catrina herself has become: she's the "fan favorite" among the calacas, with the only active link to her original meaning being occasional references to "death comes to rich and poor alike." (Looking further for the history of calacas led me to CALACA, a local arts organization that is doing an exhibit on contemporary interpretations of Día de los Muertos at a time and place I can realistically get to, so I may come away, two weeks from now, thinking something else entirely.)

I went to ALCA because I had Thursday off and didn't want to spend it responsibly on errands that I ordinarily do on Saturdays. The art gallery and gift shop are a little storefront in downtown Phoenix, in the convention-hotel belt. Here's its mural, across the adjacent building.

The Arizona centennial mentioned was in 2012. States like Massachusetts tell us to get off the lawn.
The mural is one of the two most Latino things you'll see in downtown Phoenix. The other is the frieze on the historic Orpheum Theater, which looks to be all conquistadors.

That awkward moment when you realize that Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's name means "cow head."
The art in ALCA's windows is a little edgier and is from local artists. Most of my photos had too much glare from the facing hotel tower, but here are a couple samples.

Farrah Fawcett as a calavera?
Madonna and child.
Now, more dolls, which is what we really want! Catrina and her friends, dressed for the festival.

The one on the left may be Mexico Barbie.
The clerk at ALCA seemed confused that I intend to have Catrina live in a house, more of which we'll get to in a moment. First, though, I stopped at Fortress CVS north of the downtown core for cat litter and saw this display.

Day of the Dead accessories: $3.99 each or two for $6.
All that stopped me from buying some of the jewelry -- for the skulls -- is that I already am well-supplied with skulls from bead stores.

Here's Elena Rodriguez (modern Teresa) looking nervous and uncomfortable with Catrina, possibly because she knows Catrina's satire was originally aimed at exactly what Mattel has made her.

It's just a photo op. It's just a photo op.

Manuel Estrella is much more comfortable with Catrina, in a blurry way. He is giving her advice on proper nutrition.
Catrina admires the collection of Western memorabilia.
Catrina is thinking of moving into the most traditionally furnished of the 1:18 condos. It suits her yen for assimilation. (She was originally going to date Vincent Van Gogh, who has the modern 1:18 condo, but they did not hit it off.) She's a bit tall for it, but since Manuel and Abigail don't have a guest room, her other options are limited.

I will collect pewter and drink tea.
ALCA promises that the next First Friday event will be a low-rider car show, so I may actually go to First Friday in October.


  1. I love this post....LOL she and Vincent didn't kick off.....I really like Rivera's Art, his murale are mesmerizing. Soon I'm going to see an exibit about him and Frida

    1. Oh, how fun! I've been thinking about trying to figure out how to see some more Rivera.

  2. "The one on the left may be Mexico Barbie." ROFL

  3. The photos and many of your comments made me giggle. I think the time for proper nutrition has passed.

    1. Thanks! Manuel is very sedulous in his work in the community. He worries that, what with the preponderance of sugar skulls, Catrina may get diabetes.

  4. What I like best about Catrina is that she always has a huge grin on her face! LOL I am going to keep my eyes open for her. Thanks for the history lesson!~

    1. It was her expression that made me bring her home! I got a kick out of figuring out what she was, and why, so I'm glad somebody else did, too.