Día de Muertos – which takes place between October 31 and November 2 – is a time when families and friends come together to celebrate the lives, legacies, and souls of those who have passed. In Mexico, in particular, this means building ofrendas filled with the foods and drinks the deceased person loved to guide their souls back to their homes. Papel picado – delicate paper cut into different designs that are used year-round – adorn these altars and serve an important purpose. Because papel picado’s light, when it moves, it lets families know that their loved ones have arrived.
According to Harvard Divinity Professor David Carrasco, a lot of the papel picado imagery used today comes from José Guadalupe Posada. In the early 20th century, Posada created skeleton representations like La Catrina – a woman dressed in European clothing who’s still concerned with her vanity despite being dead – to make political statements and mock the upper classes. Los Angeles-based artist Danny González recently created his own papel picado that makes just as strong a commentary, but in the context of today’s heated political and social climates.
In a year where countless hashtags have sprung up to protest femicides, the racist policing that disproportionately affects black communities, how gentrification displaces people of color, and the lack of justice in the case of the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students, González wanted to create papel picado that reflects our reality. “A month ago, I sharpened my woodcut tools and tried my hand at making papel picado,” González said on his site. “After some success, I made and cut these designs that highlight struggles that our communities are dealing with.”
Currently, his $30 papel picado is sold out, but he told me in an email, that it will once again be available soon. To begin with, he sold four different versions, but will also offer the “NO DAPL” papel picado shortly.
According to his website, González plans to donate half of the proceeds from the sales of these pieces to different organizations championing social justice causes each week. Last week, he used his papel picado to raise money for the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations, which fights for indigenous communities in the United States and Mexico.