El Paso Museum of Art is currently showing on its first floor a dazzling array of Catrinas created by Las Cruces artist Wayne Hilton. Hilton, who spent some 5 years on these, and closely examined the work of Mexican artist Jose Guadelupe Posada who is usually credited with popularizing these figures and using them for satirical purposes.
Hilton has created elaborate costumes, and painstakingly embellished them with all manner of recycled fabric and odds and ends combined to make some really remarkable creations.His work, which was funded by crowdfunding, has received interest from various museums and institutions around the country. One of these pieces was shown a few years earlier at the museum, and now we have the completed series.
I don’t want to take anything away from the work, but you do have to wonder about the fact that we are on the border and there are some wonderful Catrina makers on this side of it as we can see at the many varied displays occurring every Dia de los Muertos. I am not one of those people who think that only people from such and such group should have the right to create art which stems from that group’s heritage. I do think one needs to be careful though or there tend to be things like chocolate chip bagels and other culinary heresies or the US way of celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I want to be quick to say that nothing like that has happened here, but if the museum wanted to display Catrinas I think they might have also reached out to Juarez and El Paso artists as well. This has the whiff of studied culture about it due perhaps more to the well-written, but academic explanatory notes than to the work itself. I am probably going on too much about this, the work is wonderful and should be enjoyed for itself, but this is an integral part of local culture and I can’t help wondering if the museum shouldn’t have made more of an effort to involve the community. -david sokolec