Wickedly satirical art exhibition on death

Updated: 2013-11-08 13:21

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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Wickedly satirical art exhibition on death

El jarabe de ultratumba, by Jose Guadalupe Posada, is displayed in Being. Provided to China Daily

If you didn't get enough of the macabre recently on Halloween or the Day of the Dead, a vibrant folk art show at the Prince Gong Mansion is keeping the spirit alive for a couple more weeks.

The Mexican embassy hosts Death Is Allowed (La Muerte Tiene Permiso), a show marking the 100th anniversary of the death of Jose Guadalupe Posada, an illustrator known for his wickedly satirical calaveras, or illustrations featuring skeletons. The artist used his graphic black-and-white art to aim sharp barbs at the excesses of the bourgeois life and the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.

Trained as a teen in lithography and engraving, he began his career as a cartoonist with a newspaper called the Bumblebee - which reputedly closed after 11 issues because a Posada cartoon had offended a powerful local politician.

There were other printers and papers, though, and Posada was soon an artistic lion in the popular press of the day. But his art was virtually forgotten by the time he died in 1913, penniless in obscurity, about three years after the start of the Mexican Revolution.

In the 1920s, the French artist Jean Charlot became entranced when he saw the work while visiting the iconic muralist Diego Rivera, and Charlot championed Posada as "printmaker to the Mexican people".

Now recognized at home and abroad, Posada's work has come to be identified with Mexican celebrations of the Day of the Dead on Nov 2. That was hardly the artist's intent for his work, but he might not have minded, since the holiday shares the Mexican sensibility of death as a part of life, more festive than funereal.

Diana Coca, a Beijing-based Spanish artist who lived in Mexico in 2009, says she was impressed by the Day of the Dead rituals there, and "I also had the fantasy to dress up as Lady Death (La Catrina), related to the heritage of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihu." She got her wish last week at the Posada show opening, where she greeted guests with her face in merry skeletal makeup.

Coca's dressing up as La Catrina was "a specially good joke related to Posada's times", she says. "Social classes were extremely segmented: He's mocking these kind of people who denied their own cultural heritage through dressing as Europeans."

In addition to a totally vital and hedonistic view about life, Coca says, Posada's work makes the point that "at the end of the day, we are the same in front of death, rich or poor".

"The dead are with us - all the time," says Cuauhtemoc Villamar, Mexico's deputy head of mission. Mexicans honor their dead with a special altar on Nov 2, bringing food (including sugar skulls and other candy confections), cigarettes, liquor and yellow-orange marigold blossoms, but the background music is merry - no requiems, please.

If you go:

8:30 am – 4:30 pm

Through Nov 22

Gallery at the Prince Gong Museum

17 Qianhai West Street, Xicheng district, Beijing

Wickedly satirical art exhibition on death

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