Friday, 12 August 2011

Calavera (Mexican Sugar Skull) Portraiture Research

Over the past month or so, I've become more an more intrigued about the imagery and messages the Calavera (Mexican Sugar Skull) represents, more recently seen as part of the tattoo culture. I began to fall in love with the beautiful decorations and colours that adorned the skull. That alone was enough to make me consider using this imagery, however looking further at imagery related, I came across women who had adorned the face with paint to mimic the style, through photography and tattoos, and instantly it was decided  for me that I needed to respond to my addiction to detail :).

However, is it really OK just to obey you natural instinct to WANT to paint something, without any particular basic meaning or message? This made me feel uneasy in all honesty, not applying some sort of deeper emotional response, so I took it upon myself to get some research around the history and ideal of the 'Sugar Skull':

The Sugar Skull is an important and integral part of the Dia de los Muertos celebration. Just as the use of real skull were used as a symbol of life and death to the ancient tribes during there month-long ceremonies, the sugar skull now represents the celebration of life and death as part of modern-day festivities. The present-day observance of Dia de los Muertos could be seen as a way to honour those dead as well as immediate family members. 

Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home ofrenda or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit. Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed...

Other tie-in's with the Day of the Dead relating to Sugar Skulls:

La Calavera Catrina :

('The Elegant Skull') is a 1913 zinc etching by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada. 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. The etching was part of his series of calaveras, which were humorous images of contemporary figures depicted as skeletons, which often were accompanied by a poem.

The word catrina is the feminine form of the word catrín, which means "elegant". The figure, depicted in an ornate hat fashionable at the time, is intended to show that the rich and fashionable, despite their pretensions to importance, are just as susceptible to death as anyone else.

The Danse Macbre:

Dance of Death, also variously called Danse Macabre (French), Danza de la Muerte (Spanish), Dansa de la Mort (Catalan), Danza Macabra(Italian), Dança da Morte (Portuguese), Totentanz (German), Dodendans (Dutch), is an artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one's station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. They were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now lost mural in the Saints Innocents Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424-25.

Tattoo Culture:

Every meaning of tattoo is completely different and often only its owner knows what his tattoo means. In most of the cases sugar skull tattoo art introduces overcame past (generally hard times in the past), protection (mostly evil protection), energy (nothing will stop you), power (nothing can beat you), memory of decedent relatives, or underworld kind of thinking (symbolizing that you are at peace with death and things like that). In addition, sugar skull tattoo might be combined with many symbols (flowers, hearts, crosses, candles, etc) often used instead of skull eyes. They're usually found to be bright and colourful, as it represents joy, happiness and memories treasured. 

The original principal of this tattoo is to decorate it with things reminiscent of the person passed. Different symbols, ideas and designs can be incorporated into this tattoo to make it as unique as not only you, but also the person it is dedicated to. Getting a sugar skull tattoo is a great symbol of respect and remembrance to your loved ones that passed. The sugar skull tattoo can be a beautiful, colourful and unique tattoo.

Aside from showing one’s personality, old and young fanatics observe purposes why they consider sugar skull tattoo art as a significant element in their lives. If the personality of the wearer is strong, most often, he would create a symbol that looks threatening. If the personality of the wearer is sweet then she would resort to using light colors in enhancing the image of the tattoo.

Other Symbolism's that the Skull Represent:

Overcoming death
Overcoming a tough timeA past life, now changed, never to revert.

After gathering all this research, I began to think about the celebration of life, memories, honour, remembrance, department, strength, tough times, and just a mixture of different things. One part that really popped out at me was how sugar skulls are a dedication to an individual, and each has unique colours, shapes symbolism's the represent, connect and honour that particular person, in order for them to 'return to us'.

My next post contain my thoughts and idea on which way to take this, along with an Influence Map, rich with visual goodness

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