The Walking Dead: Day of the Dead art and zombies

sugar skulls
sugar skulls /

What do zombies have in common with Mexican art for the Day of the Dead holiday? Quite a bit it turns out. Lets look at the beauty and equality of death.

Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday on November 1st and 2nd, to coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, that has its origins in the Aztec world but blends with the Catholic customs of the Spanish new world, the very blend that created a new culture–la raza. It celebrates the memory of those relatives who have died.

It is believed that the spirits of the loved ones return to spend time with their families. During the month of October families create altars in their homes with marigold petals, fruit, photos, and other significant items to greet the loved one. They attend mass on November 1st and spend the night in the candle lit cemetery with other families praying and remembering.

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It is both happy and sad. The cemeteries are filled with food, music, candle light and people. There are toys, puppets and art representative of death that look nothing like our idea of skeletons or scary Halloween decorations. There are colorful candy skulls, dancing skeleton puppets.

The Mexican culture has a very different view about death. To them it is part of the circle of life. If you live well and will go to heaven, there is nothing to fear. To help themselves to strip away the fear, they don’t avoid talking about death. They face it.

Calavera Catrina. Jose Guadalupe Posada. (1852-1913)
Calavera Catrina. Jose Guadalupe Posada. (1852-1913) /

They draw it. They play with it. They mock it. It is the great leveler. It will happen to everyone. So you see art with death or skeletons in fancy hats and clothes as if to say. Aren’t you precious? You do know you will die, too. 

What does this have to do with zombies and the apocalypse, I wondered. In The Walking Dead we are looking at death. We aren’t avoiding it as our culture usually does. The survivors themselves are looking at death. Abraham and Michonne had very intimate experiences where they looked death in the face and chose life.

Death in the apocalypse is still a leveler. A walker doesn’t care who you were or how you are dressed. When you look at the art of Day of the Dead and the photos of the walkers, they are both beautiful in their ugliness and ordinariness. We see the skeletons or the walkers as who they were in life.

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The Mexican artists make little skeletons in wedding dresses or little skeleton teachers and doctors. There are skeletons riding bikes, skateboards and busses.  Skeletons playing guitars and dancing. Walkers remain in the clothes they last wore. Their beauty lies in seeing who they once were.

Next: Memorable Walkers

A big difference is the Mexican art depicts the dead as colorful. lively and joyful, whereas walkers are dark, emotionless and sluggish. Perhaps because they are not truly dead yet. They are wandering trying to finish and become the joyful Mexican art that hides beneath their walker skin.

To learn more about Day of the Dead and see some art, please visit Mexican Sugar Skull.