"It is in death that we find ourselves most alive"
Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated internationally throughout many cultures. It is a time when people gather to honor loved ones, friends and family members, that they have lost and help support their spiritual journey. Many build deeply personal altars or shrines to the loved ones that consist of pictures of the departed, food and drinks they may have loved and personal relics left as offerings. Skulls and flowers also adorn many of the altars, usually marigolds which in Mexico is sometimes called Flor de Muerto or Flower of the Dead and are believed to attract the souls of the dead to the offerings. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century the holiday took place at the beginning of summer but it gradually began to be associated with October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd to coincide with the Western Christian All Hallow Tide or All Saints' Eve.
The great people and volunteers of the Bare Hands Gallery put this festival together every year here in Birmingham. This year it took place at Cahaba Brewing. A great local brewery among many here in town.
Many people dress in elaborate costumes and makeup, spending hours focusing on every detail which usually consists of skull type themes of black and white and flowers to add pops of color that tie into the traditions of the celebration. The unique costumes can give a glimpse of the personality of each person without knowing a thing about them. As unique as the costumes themselves are the stories that each person carries with them. Stories told to honor and remember the loved ones lost, when shared, a way to carry on their memory and give others not familiar with them a chance to also pay their respects and share a small moment of their lives. I was lucky enough to photograph some of the people honoring their loved ones this year and even more lucky to have been able to have them share their stories with me. Here are but a few of those stories.
James & Maryjane Wahl: "Maryjane and I have been going to Dia de los Muertos together since we started dating 4 years ago, when she moved here from LA. She had always gone to their event out there and got me into it when she moved here. Every year we've tried to step it up a notch with our costumes and makeup. Last year we honored our friend Cory Seals who passed away suddenly from a heart attack and this year we went to honor one of my best friends and band mates, Mikal Thompson, who was killed in a car wreck 2 weeks before. It was really important to us to go all out this year for both of them, who meant a lot to both Maryjane and I."
Linda James: "I have been attending Birmingham's Day of the Dead Celebration for 12-13 years! I always wear my Mom's Mexican Blouse that she purchased in the 1940s. I also wear a silver necklace that was her's and also purchased on a vacation in Mexico."
"It may silly, but this year, besides honoring my departed family and friends, I also was celebrating me. Having been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in January, I spent much of the year in treatment and was sometimes not even sure if I would be alive for the 2016 DOTD. My cancer is gone, and celebrate I did (and do)."
"This was the first year in many, where I did not decorate the port-o-potties. We created shrines in each specifically dedicated to a famous "Dead John". (Belushi, Denver, Candy, Lennon, Wayne...). Hopefully I will be back at it next year!"
"The festival was created by artists to honor Spider Martin and others. It has been embraced by thousands in the Birmingham area, including our Hispanic Community. It is a wonderful thing!"
Dominic Pruit: "I myself and Gabrielle Williams was honoring three sons that we laid to rest, Damek Pruitt he died in 2009, Jonathan Williams he died this year 2016 and baby Kel, he died in 2006." "We thought it was a good idea to honor our three sons."
Sarah Randolph: "I lost my father, Kim Pilkinton, in February. It was a very unexpected, tragic ending to his life. He was 60 years old."
"As I grieved his loss, I wanted to find a way to honor his memory. I'm a Birmingham native and had been to the Dia de Los Muertos festival a couple of years ago. I loved the culture and tradition and thought it was a beautiful way for people to honor their loved ones they had lost. For me, the festival was very important to me as part of my grieving process. I wanted to dress up in the most authentic attire I could find, and Katie and I both did our own makeup. I am an artist, and I used my artistic capabilities to make him an altar full of pictures from his life, which I brought and displayed at the festival as well."
"I still struggle with grieving his loss, it was such a shock when it happened. But this festival helped me feel a sense of peace and pride, and I feel my dad would have been proud at how I chose to pay my respects to his memory."