The exhibition features the black-and-white images of a prolific Mexican illustrator who died 100 years ago, but his work continues to inspire the popular folk-art skeletons that come to life during the Day of the Dead observance every November.
“An artist who was working at the beginning of the 20th century, it really is remarkable that his work is so relevant, so familiar still, and that you can really still see that legacy today.”
Deborah Roldan is the Assistant Director of Exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. She’s telling us about the work of Jose Guadalupe Posada. His work is now on display as part of the museum’s observance of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Visitors can see the lively illustrations Posada drew for Mexican publications in the late 1800’s. They feature real people in skeletal form, everyone from the common worker to the President of Mexico. Associate Curator, Prints & Drawings, Dena Woodall says many of the drawings were political in nature, and they were designed to speak to all social classes, especially people who didn’t know how to read.
“You see that through this humor, and through this sort of style, he is able to tell stories of the day and get between the lines of censorship. He could show things that in other ways could be censored.”
Posada died in obscurity in 1913 but his work was rediscovered in the 1920’s. The stark drawings influenced a new generation of Latin American artists like Diego Rivera. Some of those works are also featured in the exhibition. Even today, Woodall says Posada’s animated skeletons have a strong emotional pull.
“We look at these as relating to death, but relating to sort of the transcience of life, or the way that life continues on, but here we see this overlap, between death, between skeletal figures actually animated in a lifelike manner.”
And those powerful images can make an impact on even the youngest museum visitor.
“When I was walking by just today in the exhibition as it’s being installed, a child walked by and looked and said ‘Look Mommy, a skeleton.’ And it was sort of like, a way that people have always been able to associate with humankind but also the transcience of life.”
The Posada exhibition is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston though December 15.