Dia de Los Muertos// Day of the Dead at Penn Museum 

Artists Cesar Viveros & Ana Guissel Palma

J.S./El Hispano

Philadelphia – The Penn Museum at 33rd and South Street was the setting for a hauntingly whimsical celebration of  Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead, Friday, that featured an enormous altar dedicated to the Mexican illustrator and lithographer Jose Guadalupe Posada.

  Marking the centennial of Jose Posada’s death, this formidable Mexican printer/journalist was an artisan who utilized his illustrations and lithography to create vivid images that often satirically pilloried the leaders and rebels of revolutionary Mexico. In boldly distilling his art through the window of contemporary issues and events, Posada’s style would have immense influence on the next  generation of Mexican and Latino artists, including such figures as Diego Rivera and Jose Orosco.

  Día de los Muertos altars are generally erected to honor the lives of those who are deceased and and can be found throughout the Mexican community, as well as in Guatemalan, Peruvian, and some Puerto Rican or other cultures with strong indigenous links.  The altars are an adaptation of ancient indigenous practices to Christian rituals, mixing religious symbols of All Saints Day with simple remembrance of those who have crossed to another life.

  The often elaborate decorations frequently include photographs, a bottle of a favorite drink, foods, musical instruments, candy and other personal paraphernalia. In South Philadelphia,for example, the restaurant VeraCruzana, at 9th and Washington, had an ornate five-foot altar with a variety of personal items at the entrance. Within the 9th Street eatery, red and green tapestries  were strewn about the ceiling, all in anticipation of a lively Dia de los Muertos crowd.  

  In cities such as  Camden, N.J., Norristown, Reading, and Upper Darby, homes and bodegas were decorated with similarly gaudy altars, reflecting a Hispanic tradition that’s been brought by recent immigrants from their Central and South American homelands.  The modern Mexican holiday, according to Penn Museum’s Pam Kosty, “is a rich blending of traditions, its origins traced back to beliefs and activities of indigenous peoples of Central and South Mexico, as well as Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day.”

   This year’s altar, a Global Philly 2013 project built over several days, remains on view through November 7.

Mexican-born artist Cesar Viveros orchestrated the creation of the the Penn Museum’s Altar which honors Mexican illustrator/artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. Along with artist Ana Guissel Palma and others,  Posada’s famous rendering of La Catrina is depicted in elegant style, and is complemented by numerous miniature skeletal figurines which bedeck this festive altar.