October 31, 2016
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Día de los Muertos is fast approaching, so it’s busy season for Mario Arturo Aguilar Gutiérrez.
Aguilar, 37, has designed and assembled facades ─ the faces of buildings and other structures ─ for the holiday, known in English as Day of the Dead, for 25 years. His work has earned him wide acclaim here in Mexico’s capital city for the size of each installation and his use of flowers.
Día de los Muertos stretches across the first two days of November. It blends indigenous traditions with Catholicism and is observed throughout Latin America. Families gather in cemeteries and private spaces for rituals, altar offerings and prayers to encourage visits from the souls of their deceased friends and relatives.
In the Náhuatl poem “In Xóchitl In Cuícatl,” which means “flower and song,” flowers decorated tombstones and altars to honor the gods, says Francisco Cázares Alvarado, founder of the Asociación de Cronistas del Distrito Federal y Zonas Conurbadas, a group of historians in Mexico City. Náhuatl is the ancient language of the Toltec and Aztec civilizations, which ruled over areas of present-day Mexico between the 10th and 16th centuries.
Aguilar, who works out of his shop in Barrio de la Asunción, the neighborhood south of the city’s downtown where he grew up, started working on facades at a young age, thanks to his grandfather, who was employed in a flower market and assembled facades. Today, Aguilar is most noted for decorating the Panteón Civil de Dolores for the past 15 years during this holiday. It’s the largest cemetery in Mexico, known for the many famous people buried there.
Mar Garcia, GPJ Mexico
Aguilar’s work has been recognized at home and abroad.
The city government in 2010 tasked him with creating a 20-meter-by-20-meter (65-foot-by-65-foot) facade to decorate an avenue in Mexico City for Día de los Muertos.
In 2012, he decorated the gala dinner for the G20 Leaders’ Summit, a meeting of world leaders. This year, Aguilar and an employee, Ernesto Elesban Sandoval Díaz, 34, traveled to Switzerland to create a facade at the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen gallery in homage of the celebrated Mexican laureate architect Luis Barragán. The exhibition’s artist, Jill Magid, confirmed to GPJ in an email that she contacted Aguilar after seeing his work at the Panteón Civil de Dolores. The exhibition was on display from June 4 to Aug. 21 of this year.
“That was the farthest we’ve traveled. I never imagined that my work would take us to those parts of the world,” Aguilar says.
Sandoval, who has worked for Aguilar for eight years, says the combination of colors they use is what makes them stand out.
“Everything we do is well thought out; wherever we go, it always ends up well,” Sandoval says.
Aguilar says what he most enjoys at the end of the day is helping his six workers economically.
“There are about six families that depend on my work, and when it goes well for me, it goes well for all of us,” Aguilar says.
He loves the work and appreciates his recognition, he says as he creates a facade for this year’s Día de los Muertos, because it furthers the importance of this holiday and the tradition of facades in Mexican culture.
“What’s important to us is to recover our roots, to give them an identity,” Aguilar says.
Danielle Mackey, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.