Posada’s Unknown Calaveras.
José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) is known for his animated Calaveras during Day of the Dead, particularly La Catrina, the female skeleton with a fancy feathered-hat, that is now the symbol of this celebration. But there are other Calaveras he created, barely known outside of Mexico: The Literary Calaveras or Calavera Rhymes; humorous verses composed as epitaphs, for a friend, a celebrity, a politician, or a belief, underlining their virtues or weaknesses. Writing Calaveras is an integral part of the Day of the Dead tradition, and indeed fundamental to understand better the work of an artist for whom words were as important as images. Evidence of this, are Posada’s illustrated corridos, his children and youth literature collections, his songbooks, newspapers, and of course, his Calaveras always containing images and rhymes. An artist who lived the transition from the 19th to the 20th centuries, Posada lived some of the most important historical moments in Mexico during those two centuries, such as the presidency of Benito Juárez, the Dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, and the first years of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. 

Those are the events that shaped his work. Interestingly, the Calaveras contained in this collection were published under the Dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, better known as The Porfiriato (1876-1911). Good politicians, corrupted politicians, artisans, artists, Indian peasants, pretentious Catrinas and Catrines, avaricious merchants, exploiters, and racists, are some of the characters depicted in these Calaveras, with a final message that they all will end up being “Calaveras of a Pile”. Neither Posada escapes to this sentence, as assert the various self-reference Calaveras that highlight Posada’s extra pounds, and money shortage. The book Posada’s Unknown Calaveras gathers 100 visual and literary Calaveras that explore with humor politics, religion, racial prejudice, courtship, the idea of Carpe Diem, and of course, Death as the great equalizer. 

This book contains a valuable collection initially published in 1947 by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo and The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, with an introduction and English translations by French artist Jean Charlot. Unfortunately, this was a limited-edition now out of print. Posada’s Unknown Calaveras is an important book that acknowledges the central literary work of José Guadalupe Posada, as well as the critical tradition of Calavera rhyming. This book is a bilingual edition, with general information on the European and Indigenous influences behind Posada’s views with regards to death. 

The original Spanish rhymes have been rewritten to get rid of original typos and to conform to modern Spanish grammar rules. Each Spanish Calavera offers an English translation. The bilingual Calaveras included in this book, are a needed cultural add-on to any Day of the Death celebration, and an excellent resource to teach the art of Calavera rhyming. These 100 Calaveras are also an excellent source for studying the socio-political and economic environment before the Mexican Revolution. For academics, this barely known collection offers new research possibilities in the fieldwork of an artist that today is considered the most influential artist of all time.

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