From "The Memoirs:
Volume Two" -
Earlier in Oaxaca, Sergio had proposed to
me and then to the IOC, the state cultural institute of Oaxaca, that we,
that is Teatro Vivo de Oaxaca, and the Frente Común, of course, do a big
center altar in the Alameda, directly in front of the Cathedral, for
Oaxaca’s grand celebration of Day of the Dead. It would be November
First and Second.
It would be an “alternative” altar, he
said, not like anything done before, we would use elements of the
traditional altar but different, our own. I started to draw up some
ideas and plans.
We would use three different elements;
first a giant replica of the famous, pre-Hispanic stone monument,
Coatlique, the goddess of corn, of birth, Mother of the Earth.
over the head of Coatlique, a huge skull with grinning teeth, symbol of
Day of the Dead. And third, over it all we would drape a giant black
rebosa, the traditional shawl worn by the women of Oaxaca today.
Sergio got the permission and did the
paperwork and everything was ready.
So on the final Saturday of October we
began in earnest to construct the giant Coatlique at the Taller Rufino
Tamayo. With a crew of about seven and Sergio and his boys running
around getting stuff, we went to work.
It was built in nine large pieces, each
about 8 feet or so and, in my old style, built of cardboard over a
wooden frame then covered with cloth and glue and painted. Nobody had
any idea, as usual, what the thing would look like nor what section they
were making. By Saturday evening, we had almost all the sections built
and covered with cardboard and by Sunday night covered with cloth and
glue. As it had been raining (still into October!) almost every night,
we covered things with lots of plastic and hoped for the best. Well,
that night was a real storm with lots of rain and the next morning a lot
of our work with the cloth and glue had come undone. So Monday was
spent waiting for everything to dry, then putting more cloth and glue
and waiting for that to dry, then painting and waiting for that to dry.
Sergio arranged for us to borrow some
scaffolding units, from the construction then going on in the Santo
Domingo cultural center. The muchachos loaded them up and brought them
to the Alameda. A large bed of platforms had come from the city and on
top of these we erected the scaffold, over 35 feet tall.
The large pieces of the Coatlique were
brought over from the taller and hoisted into place. Then the giant
skull was set in its place. It was truly impressive.
On the final night of October, we were
putting the finishing details on the altar and arranging the flowers and
candles and food on the bed of platforms. Suddenly our flowers and such
looked very small under this enormous sculpture and I said to Sergio,
“We need something bigger, some big candle holders or big oversized
vases or such! What can we do?”
He thought a moment and looked across the
plaza to the old Cathedral, rising before us. “They have a lot of big
stuff in there,” he said.
He motioned to a muchacho with a hand-truck
to follow him, and he walked boldly into the front door.
I shook my head and went back to work.
In about twenty minutes, out comes Sergio and two muchachos and a huge
load of huge tin and brass candle holders, urns, vases, big trays and
oversized chalices. We ran to the market for more flowers and put them
all up on the giant altar. We lit the candles and hooked up the lights
from my studio and it came alive.
That day thousands of people walked
slowly passed, late into the night and all through the following two
The crew stayed with it and was busy
keeping the candles lit and talking with the crowd and answering
questions. It was very exciting to hear the comments and feel the
energy of the thing.
A lot of people took pictures of it and
commented for a long time about the big Altar del Día de Muertos of
1995. And Sergio and I grew even closer in our grand projects and would
do many more.
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