Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebrations in Mexico honor those who have passed and serve as a memento mori to remind us of our own mortality. Greeting the Grim Reaper with a grin and an elbow to the bony ribs, art celebrating Day of the Dead depict skeletons – both human and animal – engaging in everyday activities, affirming there is indeed life after death.
One of the most fascinating forms of this art is the sugar skull. Brought to Mexico in the seventeenth century by Italian missionaries, sugar art was originally used year round as altar offerings and decorations. Now associated most with Day of the Dead, artists create these symbols in various mediums. The sugar skull motif can be found on clothing and in tattoos, jewelry and murals.
Whether in paint or frosting, the elaborate designs of sugar skull art are symbolic of life in death. Flowers bloom around empty eye sockets, and sunbeams radiate from skeletal brows. The sugar skull’s juxtaposition of sweetness and death is at the heart of Día de los Muertos – we laugh and we grieve, and we laugh again.
Excerpt from Day of the Dead 2014 Wall Calendar