La Catrina symbolizes the cycle of life, and serves as a reminder to enjoy life, but also embrace death. She is a sacred symbol of the Mexican celebration, Día de Muertos. A historical figure who has been honored in Mexican culture for centuries. She has been represented in various forms throughout history, but is most commonly recognized as a tall, female skeleton who wears a fancy hat with feathers.
Although La Catrina is a central figure in the Día de Muertos celebration today, she wasn’t the first major symbol of the afterlife in Mexican culture. The queen of the Aztec underworld of Chicunamictlan, Mictēcacihuātl was the first major symbol. Her purpose was to be present during any recognition of those who passed on and watch over their bones. Therefore, the Mexican tradition of honoring and celebrating the dead is deeply rooted in the culture. After decades of tradition and modernization, Mictēcacihuātl’s symbol and purpose is now represented by La Catrina.
La Catrina was originally created by a Mexican lithographer and printer, José Guadalupe Posada. He was known for creating etchings of skeletons that satirized political issues and reminded people that they would all end up dead in the end. His drawings and etchings were frequently published in the Mexican press. Posada created a zinc etching of the skeleton lady wearing a fancy hat in 1910 as an illustration of a skull or calavera. At this time, Mexicans aspired to appear wealthy and upper-class like the Europeans. Therefore, Posada named the illustration “La Calavera Garbancera” to describe someone who is ashamed of their native origins, attempts to look European by dressing in their distinct styles, and wears a lot of makeup to lighten their skin. Posada’s goal was to remind people that skin color, wealth, and societal status were not important at the end of the day because everyone would end up as skeletons.
Posada is a well-known figure in Mexican history who inspired many artists. For instance, the artist and husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, considered Posada his artistic father and was inspired by his etchings. From 1946 to 1947, Rivera painted the mural, “Sunday Evening’s Dream” in Mexico City where he depicted 400 years of Mexican history. The masterpiece illustrated the end of an era due to the revolutionary war, and the beginning of a new, modern, and equitable country. On the mural, Rivera painted a self-portrait of himself as a young boy holding hands with the skeleton lady who he named La Catrina. On the mural La Catrina is wearing an extravagant hat with feathers. Rivera ultimately popularized the modern form of La Catrina in Mexican culture and is now traditionally used for the Day of the Dead or Día De Muertos.
In 1982, sculptor and painter, Juan Torres from Morelia reproduced La Catrina in clay for the first time. Torres established his workshop in a small town named Capula with a pottery tradition from pre-colonial times. Torres’ clay sculpture of the calavera garbancera is one of the many Mexican folk-art styles used to represent La Catrina. Clay skulls have become a major tradition for Día de Muertos. Many people make clay skulls and decorate them to represent La Catrina. Other art styles used to recreate a skull or calavera include the Oaxacan word carvings, papier mache sculptures, mayolica pottery, and black clay.
Through these various art styles from different subcultures, La Catrina became a strong symbol for the Día de Muertos celebration in Mexico. In particular, her representation is portrayed through clothes and make-up. For instance, women traditionally paint their faces in colorful make-up and dress extravagantly to symbolize the skeleton. Many women also wear the iconic fancy hat with feathers to portray La Catrina. La Catrina is a sacred symbol rooted in Mexican culture that symbolizes the way Mexican people see death and the afterlife. La Catrina represents the choice Mexican people make to honor and celebrate the lives of those they’ve lost instead of focusing on the fact that they are gone forever. It’s a unique and beautiful way of interpreting the cycle of life.
To purchase items used in LB Living’s Catrina Photoshoot, please visit our local small business – Adelitas Revenge located on 4th and Termino. For Catrina makeup needs, please contact local makeup artist and chef, Fernanda Alejandre. For photography sessions, please contact Juan.