Archive for June 18th, 2012

June 18, 2012

Papel Picado

papel picado by catalina delgado trunk

Papel picado (‘perforated paper’) is a decorative craft made out of paper cut into elaborate designs. Although it is a Mexican folk art, papel picado is used as a holiday decoration in many countries. The designs are commonly cut from tissue paper using a guide and small chisels, creating as many as forty banners at a time. Common themes includes birds, floral designs, and skeletons.

They are commonly displayed for both secular and religious occasions, such as Easter, Christmas, the Day of the Dead, as well as during weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms, and christenings. In Mexico, papel picado is especially incorporated into altars during the Day of the Dead.

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June 18, 2012

La Calavera Catrina

La Calavera Catrina (‘The Elegant Skull’) is a 1910 zinc etching by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, part of his series of calaveras (humorous images of contemporary figures depicted as skeletons, which often were accompanied by a poem). The image has since become a staple of Mexican imagery, and often is incorporated into artistic manifestations of the Day of the Dead in November, such as altars and calavera costumes. Although these holy days have a long cultural history reaching into the prehistoric traditions of several European cultures, many aspects of the Mexican festival have indigenous origins in an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. After the conquest of Mexico, the Spanish superimposed their cultural traditions upon the similar Aztec festival and a synthesis occurred.

‘La Catrina,’ as it is commonly known, was a popular print in Posada’s day, but soon faded from the popular memory. Along with the rest of Posada’s prints, it was revived by French artist and art historian Jean Charlot shortly after the Mexican Revolution in the 1920s. ‘La Catrina’ soon gained iconic status as a symbol of uniquely Mexican art and was reproduced en masse. The image was incorporated into Diego Rivera’s mural ‘Dream of a Sunday’in Alameda Park,’ which also includes images of his wife Frida Kahlo, Posada, and a self-portrait of Rivera. Notable paper cutter Marcelino Bautista Sifuentes has also recreated the famous ‘La Calavera Catrina’ in papel picado (a decorative craft made out of paper cut into elaborate designs).

June 18, 2012


grim fandango

A calaca [kal-ah-kuh] (a colloquial Mexican Spanish name for skeleton) is a figure of a skull or skeleton (usually human) commonly used for decoration during the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, although they are made all year round. Tracing their origins from Aztec imagery, calacas are frequently shown with marigold flowers and foliage. As with other aspects of the Day of the Dead festival, calacas are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful figures. They are often shown wearing festive clothing, dancing, and playing musical instruments to indicate a happy afterlife. This draws on the Mexican belief that no dead soul likes to be thought of sadly, and that death should be a joyous occasion. This goes back to Aztec beliefs, one of the few traditions to remain after the Spanish conquest.

Calacas used in the festival include carved skull masks worn by revelers, small figures made out of carved wood or fired clay, and sweet treats in the form of skulls or skeletons. Calacas are sometimes made of wood, stone, or even candy. A popular phrase among Mexicans and those Latinos that personally know some is ‘se lo (la) llevo la calaca’ after someone has died, literally meaning ‘the Calaca took him (her)’ or ‘death took him (her).’ In Guatemala, ‘calaca’ is understood as ‘death’ and implies fear of death. Thus, it is not depicted as a joyful image. Calaca-like figures can be seen in the Tim Burton films ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and ‘Corpse Bride,’ the 2008 PlayStation 3 game ‘LittleBigPlanet,’ and the 1998 Tim Schafer computer game ‘Grim Fandango.’

June 18, 2012


libertad by Ester Hernandez

Transculturation [trans-kuhl-chuh-rey-shuhn] is a term coined by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz in 1940 to describe the phenomenon of merging and converging cultures. Transculturation encompasses more than transition from one culture to another; it does not consist merely of acquiring another culture (acculturation) or of losing or uprooting a previous culture (deculturation).

Rather, it merges these concepts and additionally carries the idea of the consequent creation of new cultural phenomena (neoculturation). Ortiz also referred to the devastating impact of Spanish colonialism on Cuba’s indigenous peoples as a ‘failed transculturation.’ Transculturation can often be the result of colonial conquest and subjugation, especially in a postcolonial era as native peoples struggle to regain their own sense of identity.

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June 18, 2012


global citizen

Cosmopolitanism [koz-muh-pol-i-tn-iz-uhm] is the ideology that all kinds of human ethnic groups belong to a single community based on a shared morality. This is contrasted with communitarianism, which emphasizes the need to balance individual rights and interests with that of the community as a whole, and argues that individual people are shaped by the cultures and values of their communities.

Cosmopolitanism may entail some sort of world government or it may simply refer to more inclusive moral, economic, and/or political relationships between nations or individuals of different nations. The word derives from Greek ‘cosmos’ (‘the Universe’) and ‘polis’ (‘city’).

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