Día de los Muertos & the Art of Tattoo

Extras - Issue 15

On the occasion of the celebration of Día de los Muertos, HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine has asked various Greek tattoo artists to create a design, or to choose one of their tattoos with this particular theme.

By Eirini Katsara.

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Design by Mikey Boy / Endangered Species Tattoo.​

‘Día de los Muertos’ (Day of the Dead) is the largest Mexican celebration, which has to do with the ‘awakening of the dead’, since according to their faith and traditions, it is the day the dead return to earth to celebrate with their loved ones.

It is essentially the most popular celebration in Latin America which started 3.5000 years ago by the Aztecs in honour of their goddess Miccailhuitontli (Lady of the Dead, later on Catrina) and has influenced on a global level the art world and every form of artistic expression from the fine arts to the cinema.

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Tattoo by Kostas Baronis / Proki Tattoo Studio.

The tradition

The celebration takes place between the 31st of October and the 2nd of November and, other than Mexico, it is also celebrated in Brasil and other areas of Latin America as well as the rest of the world, since it has been added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage list by Unesco.

According to the myth, at midnight on the 31st October, the gates of paradise open and the souls of the dead children (angelitos) exit and wander on earth for only a day, so they can visit their homes. The next midnight sees the gates opening again so the adult souls can come down to earth. On earth, their families set up altars (ofrendas) with flowers, skulls made of sugar, soap, Catrinas (statuettes of skeletons in official garb), incense, herbs, ‘bread of the dead’ sprinkled with red sugar to symbolize blood, foods, candles and dolls to honour and welcome them.

In the evening, the impressive celebrations include local fetes, where the living dress up with clothes and make up as skeletons to celebrate alongside the souls of their loved ones.

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Tattoo by Dovas / Tattooligans.

Effect on the arts

Whereas in most Western cultures a skeleton represents fear of death and its considered a ‘macabre’ spectacle, for Latin Americans it holds a far deeper meaning, since it is a way of representing the depths of the human soul while at the same time signaling happiness after death. 

The tattoos and paintings, the famous calacas (either sugar skulls or clay skulls), the calavera poems and wall paintings whose theme is centered on Dia de los Muertos are nothing other than memorials of this particular day, dedicated to a family’s most loved ones or friends who were lost. Some others believe that having Dia de los Muertos figures on one’s body, canvas or walls as well as carrying Mexican dolls around with them is considered a good luck charm.

Regarding the art of tattoo specifically, the man mainly responsible for depicting Día de los Muertos figures was the great Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) and his religious-satirical printmaking and mainly his cavaleros, which in the end slipped into the world of tattoo and over time took on more colours and liveliness.

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Tattoo by Dobi Slavov / Ironbrush Tattoo.

The tattoos: thematology, semiology and colours

Although tattoos having the Mexican Day of the Dead as their theme vary, there is one thing they have in common: the figures are skeletons, which means that the people who are getting the tattoo have accepted the fact that they represent the dead, people who are with us in flesh no more, but in spirit. That is usually the reason why the skeletal figures are dress in fancy colourful clothing, hold guitars and are dancing, in motion, drinking wine and singing, generally having a nice time in the after-life. Of course, there are also cases where a tattoo with this theme is done clearly for aesthetic reasons. 

Other symbols of the Day of the Dead used in tattoos are also deformed skeletons with intense colours, bandoleros, ‘pan de muerto’ bread, faces of half flesh –half bone representing the cycle of life and more. 

Each colours has its own meaning in Día de los Muertos tattoos: pink symbolizes celebration and joy, red is the blood of life and sacrifice, while purple is sadness, grieving and the pain of loss. On the other hand, white symbolizes hope, the promise and clarity of the spirit and orange is the brightness of the sun and the new day. 

Perhaps the most important colour in the semiology of the Day of the Dead and its representation on the human body is yellow, which symbolizes marigolds, the flowers known as cempazuchitl in the Aztec language (nahuatl). Yellow, as well as the marigolds themselves are symbols of death, based on Aztec and Central American mythology. These flowers are usually plucked since their petals are used to show the dead the way to the altars and homes, where their loved ones are praying for them.

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Design by Lonis / Lonis Tattoo Studio.

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Tattoo by Thanasis Pimpas / Erevos Creations.

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Design by Sotja / Honest Tattoo.

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Tattoo by Paul Doxas / Destiny Tattoo.

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Design by Jasone Sgb / Style Matters Tattoo Studio.

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Tattoo by Dimitris Chatzis / Nico Tattoo Athens.

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Tattoo by Tzenio / Dildo Tattoo Studio.

Kostas-Pliakas_Prive-Tattoo_web

Tattoo by Kostas Pliakas / Prive Tattoo.

Yannis-Mellos_Legend-Tattoo_web

Tattoo by Yannis Mellos / Legend Tattoo.

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Design by Dimitris Rtb / Skink Tattoo Studio.

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Tattoo by Vasso / Eightball Tattoo Studio.

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Design by Fanis Kapsalidis / One Up Tattoo.

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Tattoo by Dimitris Aronis / Dermagrafics.

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Tattoo by Jay / Medusa Tattoo.

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Tattoo by Tasos Xy / Uncle Chronis Tattoo.

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Tattoo by Petros / Skinworks Tattoo.

Fotis-Hatzigeorgiou_Rock-N-Ink-Tattoo_web

Design by Fotis Hatzigeorgiou / Rock N Ink Tattoo.

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Tattoo by Magaret / Magaret Tattoo Story.

Lazaros_Ritual-Tattoo-Athens_web

Tattoo by Lazaros / Ritual Tattoo Athens.

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Tattoo by DrPepper / Doctor Pepper Tattoo Studio.

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Tattoo by Tasos / Freddy Tattoo.

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Tattoo by Giannis Barouxis / Popeye Love Olive.

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Tattoo by Bio Mike / No Remorse Tattoo.

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Design by Peter M. Phill / Nico Tattoo Crew.

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Tattoo by Vasilis / Moral Tattoo Crew.

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Tattoo by Inko / 4Eva Tattoo Studio.

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Tattoo by Ovi / Circus Tattoo.

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Design by Teo / Teotattoo Studio Drama.

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Tattoo by Jen / Vida Pirata Tattoo Studio.

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Tattoo by Panos Gergoulias / Polis Decay.

Theo_Descendink-Tattoo-Studio_web

Design by Theo / Descendink Tattoo Studio.

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