A Museum without the Museum: ‘Death in the History of Mexico’

Culture Life

Image Description: Skeleton Statue near a tree

The frustration of being cooped up is hitting hard. Netflix has lost its sparkle and you’re bored of staying in the house reading or squabbling with siblings. The one hour of state-mandated exercise isn’t enough to stop the cabin fever setting in.

You might, as I felt, wish you had made the time to see the Ashmolean’s Rembrandt Exhibition or perused the latest pieces at Modern Art Oxford before Coronavirus kicked us all out of the city of dreaming spires. But it is not all doom and gloom; I present you with Google’s Arts and Culture page, home to thousands of museum collections and online exhibitions as well as individual pieces. Whilst looking through their extensive collections, and with a recommendation, I settled upon the exhibition of ‘Death in the History of Mexico’, from the Museo Nacional de la Muerte (National Museum of Death).

The collection itself starts from the Pre-Hispanic era and focuses on the cult of the skull as part of the polytheistic death ritual

I knew very little about the culture of death in Mexico and was intrigued to explore it through art and imagery. The collection itself starts from the Pre-Hispanic era and focuses on the cult of the skull as part of the polytheistic death ritual. There are a few examples of art pieces that accompany the dead in the afterlife and some more detailed examples of the religious festivals, but unfortunately, there is very little information to support these pieces other than a small label to note their origin.

The exhibition takes you through to the colonial conversion to Catholicism with specific details of changing funeral rituals and the move towards perhaps more familiar aspects of their culture such as the Day of the Dead holiday. However again, a little context is provided for these pieces and the exhibition as a whole seems a little vague with regards to background information.

Nonetheless, the crowning glory of this online experience is the opportunity to view the painting ‘Little Pio the Child Martyr’ by Anónimo in great detail, more so than you would be able to if stood in front of it in the flesh. Well, at least not without setting off a few alarms.

Been there, done that. All rather embarrassing.

The crowning glory of this online experience is the opportunity to view the painting ‘Little Pio the Child Martyr’ by Anónimo in great detail

The exhibition then moves on and places greater emphasis on the contemporary period of death-related imagery and gives specific examples of the political and satirical uses of the Mexican cult of death which serves as an interesting take although this too is sparse in detail.

Overall, the ability to view exhibitions online is a great asset and should be exploited mercilessly, and whilst the Museo Nacional de la Muerte’s exhibition was somewhat brief it does provide a neat overview, points of reference and an idea of where to go next for further research. View this as a stepping stone to a new niche area of interest in this time of Corona-induced chaos. You may well find yourself as an expert on this topic by the end of the lockdown.

Image Credit: Mario Rodriguez via Unsplash

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