History of La Catrina: A Note On Our Cover Art For Oct. 31 2018

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

As with many things, history has a funny way of twisting what art represents to us. A fantastic example of this is our cover art this edition, our wonderful graphic designer’s rendition of La Calavera Catrina (or Catrina La Calavera Garbancera), an infamous zinc etching by Jose Guadalupe Posada, a respected lithographer and illustrator of the early 20th century. Today, La Catrina is a quintessential symbol of Día de los Muertos, but this was not Posada’s intention.

When Posada created La Catrina, it was a satirical representation of the indigenous peoples who were jumping over the chance European invaders’ aristocratic traditions, such as wearing lots of makeup to make their skin appear whiter and hiding their own origins.

As popular as Posada’s art was, however, the image did not truly take off in popularity or notoriety until it was picked up by world-renowned artist Diego Rivera in 1947.

Rivera’s mural de La Catrina, titled Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central, is the base of many La Catrina figures today. The mural represents around 400 years of Mexican art history, including paying tribute to the image’s creator, Posada, as well as Rivera’s wife, renowned artist Frida Kahlo. Unlike Posada’s image of a female skeleton wearing nothing but an overly flamboyant hat, Rivera’s take on La Catrina features her in an elegant dress, full of bright colors.

In addition to being a symbol of Día de los Muertos, La Catrina is a reminder to laugh in the face of death, and that in the hands of death, everyone is equal. When times were particularly harsh or unkind, La Catrina also served as a representation of class division.

Regardless of her origins, La Catrina is infamous today, and her image is instantly associated with Día de los Muertos. Despite what some may think, she is a symbol of hope and happiness today, a reminder that while only death is truly promised to us, we will see our loved ones in the afterlife, and continue on our next adventure.

Story by Katelyn Boring