Celebrating and Remembering the Dead

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This mixed media composition entitled “Celebrating and Remembering the Dead” was designed in Adobe Photoshop, shaded with colored pencil and later painted with gold leaf paint. The artist, Genine C. Geissler, dedicated the piece to the memory of her brother Matthew.

By Genine C. Geissler
George Mason University, Virginia

I grew up in Laredo, Texas, a small city on the Mexican border. Like many Americans who have grown up on the border, Mexican culture was a part of my life from a very young age. Some of these cultural traditions might seem strange or unfamiliar to others, but my Jewish mother and Catholic father taught me to have an open mind, and they inspired me to follow my healthy spiritual convictions.

When my brother died at the age of 19, a Mexican tradition, the Day of the Dead, comforted me. The Day of the Dead is a religious holiday for remembering loved ones in a positive, enlightening and dynamic fashion. For this piece, I wanted to create something that not only showed the duality of life, but reflected the traditions that honor deceased family members and friends.

The Day of the Dead became popular during the Spanish colonial period as a syncretic religious holiday, a mix of Pre-Colombian Indian beliefs and Catholic dogma. The indigenous roots of the Day of the Dead date back to around 1000 BCE. The people of Mexico visited the graves of deceased family members and friends to mourn and to celebrate the dead in life. Some of the traditional imagery used in the celebration includes skulls, dancing skeletons, the Virgin Mary and candles lit at night at cemeteries. Today, the Day of the Dead remains much the same as it did 3000 years ago; Mexicans bring food and drink to gravesites, and they pray and remember the dead.

Throughout the United States, culture exchange between Americans and Mexicans has resulted in new forms of artistic expression. I only hope that I have captured the spirit, harmony and grace of a holiday that is so dear to me.

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