About the Exhibit

A Celebration of Souls: Day of the Dead in Southern Mexico is a bilingual traveling exhibit from The Field Museum exploding with the rich color and spirit of the traditions of Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) in rural Oaxaca, Mexico.

Celebration of Souls was augmented by an altar created by local Mexican artist Isaac Hernández Ruiz, giving visitors an up-close look at the creativity and symbolism that shape this Mexican tradition.

The 29 photographs by four documentary photographers brilliantly depict the dynamic mix of emotions characteristic of Day of the Dead—the joy of celebration and the solemnity of remembrance. The large format, richly illustrated images illuminate a diversity of traditions, from preparing centuries-old recipes, to scattering trails of marigolds for guiding the dead home, and offering chocolate and pan de muerto (bread of the dead) at community gatherings.

The dead are the guests of honor for celebrants of Mexico's Day of the Dead, traditionally a two day festivity observed annually on November 1 and 2 on the Christian holidays of All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day. Families and neighbors gather to honor and remember the deceased by decorating burial plots, hosting lively family reunions, and preparing special foods. Altars for remembrance depict calaveras (skulls), crosses, votive lights, and fresh flowers. Both old and young souls are celebrated, with November 1 as the traditional day to remember deceased infants, angelitos, and November 2 for deceased adults. An ancient tradition rooted in Mexico's prehispanic cultures, Day of the Dead is celebrated in diverse ways across Mexico. Celebration of Souls focuses on the traditions of rural Oaxacan villages.

Celebration of Souls, developed by The Field Museum, Chicago, in collaboration with Mars, Incorporated, features the work of four professional photographers, Guillermo Aldana, Scott Vlaun, Howard-Yana Shapiro, and Ricardo José Garibay Ruiz, who set out to document the trail of chocolate in Oaxaca and through their work became witnesses to the unique ways that rural Oaxacans celebrate the Day of the Dead.

Artist in Residence:
Seattle-based Mexican artist, Isaac Hernández Ruiz, was at the Burke Museum for two weeks as artist-in-residence for this exhibition. He provided visitors an up-close look at the creativity and symbolism that shape this Mexican tradition.

While in the galleries, Ruiz gave presentations on traditional Mexican art styles such as sand paintings (tapetes). “As an artist, it is important to me to act as a facilitator and show children how you can express yourself through art,” comments Ruiz.

R.J. Garibay

Photo: Chocolate Skulls, by Guillermo Aldana.