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Paper maché

Credit Line

Purchase by the Department of Art History, 2017

Accession Number



This object is a replica of a sugar skull mask from the traditional Mexican Holiday, Dia de Los Muertos. During the first few days of November, families celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones. The spirits of the dead are believed to come to life starting on October 31. Dia de los Muertos is a rather expensive holiday for the indigenous peoples who celebrate it. It requires a long decorative process in which families create many traditional crafts including the sugar skull. The Sugar skull sits on a beautiful altar or “ofrenda” amidst candles, marigolds, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and piles of fruit. These are offerings for deceased spirits to enjoy. The sugar skull is a tradition that represents the departure of the soul through taking on the folk art style of large grins, sparkles, bright colors and floral décor. The mask is made from granulated sugar pressed into a skull mold. They are supposed to be fleeting pieces of art; not meant to last. They are impermanent forms of commemorating a life. Each sugar skull represents an individual life. Sugar is a material that disintegrates and breaks down. The skulls are meant to be ephemeral. The idea that the skull will deteriorate adds to the spirituality of the holiday. As opposed to just a piece of art or a traditional craft, this skull will become apart of nature.

Typical representations of death are often serious and emotional. However, the Sugar skull represents a symbol of both life and death, adding an arguably inappropriately loud flare to the exhibition. Bulbous, red roses wrap around the edges of the mask and a bright yellow pattern surrounds the skulls eye sockets.

What is most interesting about this object is that it reflects the past, present and future. It is an object that undergoes stages of creation and deterioration.

—Charlotte Lee ('18)