The Day of the Dead

The Great Tree of Life
The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) is a time of celebration in the homes and towns throughout México. Although predominantly a Roman Catholic country, strong pre-Christian beliefs exist stating that the dead have divine permission to return to Earth once a year in order to visit family and friends and to enjoy the pleasures from their past lives. As a result, the notion of death and the dead is much different in México than it is in other parts of the world. A frequent constituent of art, death is often portrayed in festive paintings, sculptures and other pieces of Mexican pop artnot in a morbid or dark manner, but as a bright, colorful celebration.

Fewer than 50 km from México City lies Metepec, a city known for its ceramics and the home of the Tree of Life, a creation of the Soteno family. In the 1930s, Modesta Fernandez Soteno began to model figurines of Adam and Eve with a tree in the Garden of Eden, and these classic pieces were the original Trees of Life. She began to teach her sons the trade, and each mastered the art while developing their own styles and ideas. It was Tiburcio Soteno, the youngest of Modesta's sons, who began to allow his trees to tell the complete story of the life and death of an individual. The amount of elaboration contained within each life's story depends upon the size of the tree.

One of Tiburcio Soteno's pieces, a large tree entitled Arbol de la Vida de Tiburcio (Tree of the Life of Tiburcio), on display at La Casa del Arte Popular Mexicano in Cancún, tells the following story:
At the center of this area is the Great Tree of Life, representing the life of a little skeleton named Tiburcio, where his fun-filled life story is told in succession, starting at the bottom, where the young child is baptized, receiving his name, Tiburcio. Continuing up the left side, we see him in school sleeping at his desk, showing his laziness. Farther up, is a demonstration of his daily activities, shooting marbles (with his friends). On the next level up, we see him shot by Cupid's arrow and making a decision to get married, where a great party is directed by an orchestra seated above those dancing below, and continuing below with a banquet where the bride and groom passionately kiss, closely observed by the father of the bride who shares the table with them. Farther down, Tiburcio's activities as a ladies' man are shown as we see him on his horse with a serenade for a lady friend and his wife behind him observing the scene. In the upper right portion of the tree, Tiburcio decides to be a matador, unfortunately a bad decision, as the bull gores him. Lowering our view, we see him in the hospital where he loses his life. Continuing down is his candlelight service, where the women cry and his friends raise their glasses to his health. Farther down, they take him to burial, but we see him rising from his coffin as a friend is consoling his wife.
The Great Tree of Life The Great Tree of Life The Great Tree of Life

At the top, Tiburcio is in the hands of the divine, on one side the angel and on the other the devil, both awaiting a resolution, leaving Tiburcio's destiny to our imagination.

The scenes on these elaborate displays of polished clay are individually molded and then joined together into an incredibly detailed conglomerate where we once again see the reaches of Mexican Pop Art.

Created byTiburcio Soteno
Metepec, Estado de México
Colección: La Casa del Arte Popular Mexicano
El Embarcadero, First Floor
Kukulcán Blvd. Km. 4 Hotel Zone, Cancún, Quintana Roo 77500, México
Tel/Fax: 998-849-4332
E-mail: gaby@museoartepopularmexicano.org


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