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Origins of Dia de los Muertos

in Los Angeles

“Dia de los Muertos” began thousands of years ago in the valley of Southern Mexico where the Mayas, Zapotecas, Mixtecas and Aztecas honored their dead with elaborate ceremonies, dances and rituals.  In the 16th century when Cortez conquered Mexico, Catholicism was introduced. That religion’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day coincided with the indigenous celebrations, giving us the altars with food, art, candles, flowers and photographs of deceased alongside those of saints.


In 1972, after the East Los Angeles riots left many in the Chicano community feeling angered because of the negative stereotypes that the media had portrayed, a group of artists from Self Help Graphics decided that not only did the community need to be united in a positive project, but also that society in general needed to see a very real, very positive celebration coming out of East Los Angeles and the Chicano community.


Inspired by Jose Guadalupe Posada, the 19th century artist who is remembered for his woodcuts making fun of Mexican society and showing people as skeletons, the Self Help Graphic artists borrowed but added their own vibrant, action-filled twist, creating a body of work that is highly recognizable worldwide.


In 1984, Day of the Dead was brought to Los Angeles Photography Center by Self Help Graphics.  It was in these galleries that contemporary “fine” art became a major component of the celebration.

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