Celebrate the Memory of Victims of Violence Through the Art\Next

by Mary Stokrocki

[Article published in Art Education, March 2000, 53-54.]

Host a Dia de Los Muertos, a Day of the Dead Procession and festival, in memory of victims of violence in your school and/or community. This annual rite historically features life in the embrace of death. The most important part is families coming together to honor their ancestors with ofrendas , private altar pieces, and public celebration. The procession is usually held on November 2, which is All Souls Day. The Day of the Dead is a mixture of Aztec and Christian influences in Mexican tradition. Create an altar in memory of the deceased that you wish to honor. Death is not an end in itself but part of a continuous cycle.


The Procession and Festival for the Victims of Violence

A group of artists met to organize "La Procesion Y Festival," a procession and festival honoring those who have died, especially victims of violence. The celebration started with a procession from St. Anthony's Church, continued through the streets, followed by a party in Patriots Park, and ended with a Candlelight Procession back to the church at dusk.

Grandma Death Puppet by Zarco Guerrero

Bury guns altar piece is dedicated to
Children of War

Calaca mask by Zarco Guerrero

Candy Sugar Skulls

Class Altarpiece in memory of deceased classmates,
made for students at Flagstaff High School


Bridal skeleton representing the Victims of Domestic
Abuse by Lisza Juarique

Altar for the Victims of the World Trade Center Bombing,
2001, New York City



Mary Stokrocki (Website revised 2/08)


Art Celebrates the Memory of Victims of Violence through The Day of the Dead

Published: Stokrocki, M. (2000). Celebrate the memory of victims of violence through the arts: A photo essay.” Art Education, 53  (2), 53-54.


 UNESCO recently asked INSEA International Society for Education though Art World Councilors what art education projects in the United States relate to peace, tolerance, and multiculturalism.  A survey of Art Education articles over the last 50 years revealed 12 articles related to multiculturalism, but only two articles related to peace and none on tolerance. Both articles on peace were post W.W. II (Francesco, 1952 and Anderson, 1965) and the articles on multiculturalism discuss various kinds with tolerance for cultural pluralism.  Since the 1960’s, no one written in the United States on the theme of peace, although Connors (1998) has written on conflict resolution.  A random act of violence is another type of clandestine war, which occurs in the inner city to remote indigenous reservations. This photo essay presents how community artists are leading the public procession against violence and how art educators can get involved.


Host a Dia de Los Muertos, a Day of the Dead Procession and Festival, in memory of the Victims of Violence in your school and/or community. This annual rite historically features life in the embrace of death. The most important part is families coming together to honor their ancestors with ofrendas, private altar pieces, and public celebration. The procession has Native American and Christian traditions and is usually held on November 2, which is All Souls Day. Death is not an end in itself but part of a continuous cycle. A group of community Chicano artists, for example, led by Zarco Guerrero, met to organize La Procesion Y Festival, a procession and festival honoring those who have died, especially victims of violence. When Chavez, assassinated founder of the United Farm Workers of America, and the rock star Selena were murdered, more youth began to respond. Zarco explains, “We artists took the stance for peace. Our message is socially relevant and a celebration of spiritual meaning. The festival belongs to the people in the streets, as a way to express their loss and keep up the memories.” For example, start with a morning procession from a local religious center, continue through the streets with floats and banners in memory of loved ones, follow with a party in a public park, and end with a candlelight  procession at dusk back to the place of origin or a different one.


Direct students to make a giant paper mache puppet; for example, Zarco’s Dona Sebastiana, Grandmother Death, who can greet people (Figure 1). Include music and dance with students performing as skeletons in their handmade masks, called calacas. Arrange altars around a center stage or square. Notice the altars dedicated to notable Chicano victims of violence, Chavez and Selena, made by Zarco (Figure 2). Encourage students to assemble altars; for example, an altar made in memory of a murdered classmate which included a large paper collage of the Virgin of Guadalupe, sugar skulls, candles, crepe paper flowers (usually Marigolds), and photos (Figure 3). Also make boxed-size altars out of painted and modeled clay, called cajitas, such as La Tiendita, The Grocer, who sells neighborhood goods (Figure 4). Include other portable altars to memorialize other types of violence victims. For example, Chicana artist Lisza Jaurigue made a paper mache skeleton, dressed as a bride, in memory of domestic victims (Figure 5). Offer several art activities, such as making paper flowers, cutouts, banners, and masks (Figure 6). Include such tasty delights as tamales, tacos, and sugar candy skulls. In this way, we celebrate the Fiesta de La Vida, The Festival of Life, as well. Make art social action not passive display.


A Short History

Ofrendas can be traced back to the Aztecs who reserved an entire month for honoring their dead (Craven, 1997). In Mexico and now in the United States, the Day of the Dead is the traditional time for offerings in every Mexican home and community. In Mexico, ceremonies may begin on October 18, San Lucas Day, for honoring people who died tragically. Preparations continue throughout Ninin, the days of the dead. On October 31, people prepare altars for children angelitos, even small ones for orphans outside of the homes, then for adults on November 2, All Souls Day. This is followed by La Octava from November 8-9 and ends with San Andres on November 30 (Carmichael & Sayer, 1991, p.64).


Types of ofrendas explored.

Several portable ofrendas used in the procession are described; including miniature models, now boxed (cajitas) for children. Then tables for adult spirits are set with favorite foods that are later consumed by the living. Urban households set an additional place for the dead relative. Large cities now host communal altars in museums (Such as the Heard Museum) or public places Preparations in rural sites are also explained.

La Ofrenda consists of several symbolic preparations: The main ingredient is a picture or statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christ, or the saints to whom prayers are offered. Next comes candles, incense burners (scented copal resin), and photographs of the deceased. Several kinds of fragrant flowers, and blackware pottery (for holy water) also attractively adorn the table. For the deceased to eat, people lay out sweet and spicy foods: mole (thick sauces), tamales (corn wraps of different ingredients); special breads (pan de muertos), sweets (candied pumpkin, sugar skeletons (calaveras), and chocolates. Beverages consist of atole (ancient corn meal drink with fruit flavoring), sweetened water, juices, a mild alcohol-like beer (pulque), hot chocolate, herbal teas, and chai water (a gelatinous cold drink). Decorations include paper cutouts (papel picado), colored egg shells for breaking during the celebrations (cascarones); jewelry (crosses, medals of saints, and milagros (metal charms). Milagros, little miracles, replaced Indian images. skeleton puppets (cascarones), paper and papier mache masks and toy delight living children. Everyone enjoys the clay whistles, traveling photographers, music (mariachis, pan pipes and drums, matachines), poems, songs, and dances.        

Finally, traditional and contemporary issues related to ofrendas and the Day of the Dead are explored; such as, the mergence of Indian (Taube, 1993) and Catholic sources; the nature of ofrenda as decoration or art; individual statement or community coalition; and the contemporary use of ofrendas for mockery, or Chicano political statement.               



Blandy  D., & Congdon, K. (Eds.).  (In press).  Invisible Histories.  Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. 

Chatfield, A. (1997, June 17).  Festive folk art not as dead as it looks, ASU State Press.

Connors, K. (1998). Conflict resolution & recognition of diversity via an art experience. Art & Design Education (NSEAD), 17 (3), 275-282.

Craven, Scott (1997, October 23). Rattle and run. Arizona Republic, p. 4 & 6.

Erickson, M. (1998).  Chicano & Chicana space. Available at http://mati.eas.asu.edu: 8421/~getty/html_pages/Protest home.html.

Masuoka, S. (1994). En calavera: The paper mach´e art of the Linares family. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, UCLA:  Fowler.

Portilla, L. & Munos, S. (1989).  La ofrenda:  The days of the dead. Videotape produced by PBS (Available at the Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ).

Taube, Karl  ( 1993). Aztec and Maya Myths.  London: British Museum.