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Photo by Julio Sánchez
Dia de los muertos 3
Alter paying homage to Michael Jackson from Fantastik shop, 2009
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© Consorte Cultura
Dia de los muertos
This year's event poster
Barcelona has created a unique way to mark the Mexican tradition of El Dia de los Muertos.
El Día de los Muertos is a Mexican cultural phenomenon that dates back to Pre-Columbian times. From October 31st to November 2nd, whole families gather in the local cemetery, bringing flowers, food and candles, and create handmade ‘altars’ for deceased loved ones in their homes. It’s a ritual that might seem a little strange to the uninitiated, but the celebration is becoming increasingly popular all around the world.
The Ruta de Altares (Altars Route) is an exposition unique to the city of Barcelona. As Mexican native and Barcelona resident Rosi Morales explains, “The idea is not to celebrate death, but to celebrate the life of the person by remembering them. The best way to describe an altar is almost like a table set out for an important guest; someone coming to visit who you haven’t seen for a long time.”
Morales runs a small cultural centre in Gràcia called Diogenes that since 2009 has been the driving force behind Barcelona’s Ruta de Altares. “We make altars every year. I was working at a foundation called the Food and Culture Museum back in 2007, and we decided to put up an altar for the Day of the Dead because we’d found some sugar skulls in the archives of the museum. We thought, ‘why not, it’s sugar, it’s technically food’.” After this, Morales and her colleagues discovered that several places around Barcelona had been putting up altars for some years. “The Mexican Consulate and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum invited us to be a part of an informal altars route, and the event grew from there,” she says.
Over the past few years, under the charge of Morales and with the support of the Mexican consulate, it has come to incorporate restaurants and bars as well as cultural centres. “The only requirement is that the altars include some or all of the main elements found in traditional altars,” Morales explains. “These include salt, sugar, water, candles, a photo of the person, usually the person’s favourite food or drink, flowers (usually marigolds) and, of course, the sugar skulls, which have become a symbol of Día de los Muertos.” She points out that altars don’t have to commemorate a Mexican person. For example, this year Casa America Catalunya is honouring a Catalan writer, illustrator and publisher who went by the pseudonym of Tisner; he was exiled during the Spanish Civil War and went to Mexico. Two years ago, the shop Fantastik created one in honour of Michael Jackson.
“The altars go up in October and run through most of November. This year we have almost 30 participating locations. Many of the cultural institutions involved also offer workshops and related events to celebrate the Día de los Muertos,” Morales says.
When it comes to involvement from people not familiar with the tradition, Morales adds, “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction we’ve gotten from non-Mexicans in Barcelona. But we’ve also made an effort to try to incorporate local culture into the route every year. For example, in 2010, our poster design depicted Day of the Dead skeletons making a traditional Catalan human tower [castell]...It’s interesting how many non-Mexicans, Catalans and expats really get into the idea. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve visited every single altar on the route!”
Selected participating altar sites:
Diogenes Espacio Cultural—Martinez de la Rosa 21, bajos, tel. 93 265 8094. Altar: Honouring Don Arcadio Hidalgo, the “father of the rebirth of the son jarocho”.
Casa America Catalunya—Còrsega 299, entresuelo, tel. 93 238 0661. Altar: Honouring Tisner, Catalan exile and writer.
Consulado de México en Barcelona—Pg Bonanova 55, tel. 93 417 1747. Altar: Honouring Chavela Vargas, Mexican singer known for her rancheras.
Tienda Ameyal—Corders 9, tel. 93 269 1330. Altar: Honouring Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter.
Café Galeria Cosmo—Enric Granados 3, tel. 93 453 7007. Altar: In collaboration with Fantastik (see below).
Fantastik—Joaquín Costa 62, tel. 93 301 3068. Altar: Honouring US singer Donna Summer.
Find a full list of participating altar sites, including dates and schedule of related events at: www.rutadealtares.org