In just 3 days time – on November 1 – it will be Dia De Los Muertos, Day Of The Dead – that colourful and joyful Mexican holiday in which family and friends who have died are remembered and celebrated. Homemade altars with food, drink, candles and flowers – these are items that the spirits will enjoy when they come back to visit their living families and friends – are created in homes across Mexico and families pass the night by the grave of the departed, playing the guitar and drinking tequila. In markets across Mexico, candied sugar skulls, often with a person’s name attached, line the tables. These colourful skulls have, in recent years, entered the iconography of fashion, as has La Calavera Catarina – ‘the elegant skull’ – which depicts a female skeleton wearing a fancy hat.
How different the mood, Dia De Los Muertos, to our own western European traditions. For hundreds of years and in various art forms, the skull has served as a warning. Live a pious life. The material world has no value. We are all walking towards the same end. This is the language of the Dutch Vanitas paintings of the seventeenth century: the tulip drops its dead petals, a candle gives off one final spiral of smoke, the skeleton of a small bird sits, marble white, in a corner. And the skull. Always the skull.
Memento Mori is Latin for Remember Death – a medieval designation that encouraged the reflection on mortality and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It has always had a strong smell of guilt about it (but then it did originate with the Church of the time): what we have on earth is worthless, compared with what is to follow. At Tales From The Earth, we strongly believe in the idea of Memento Mori, but our translation is somewhat different. Memento Mori does not mean Remember Death, it means Remember Life. We’re here for a short time. Live every day to the fullest. Show love. Show kindness. Be passionate.