Day of the Dead at the NGV


DIA DE LOS MUERTOS – A Mexican celebration that remembers the dead.

On November 2nd 2014, La Trobe University, in partnership with the Building Healthy Communities RFA, celebrated an ancient Mexican tradition that honours the cycle of life and acknowledges death as a normal part of life.

Dr Stanley Brandes, Robert H. Lowie Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, gave a keynote address on the Day of the Dead in popular culture and contemporary modes of mourning.  The National Gallery of Victoria welcomed key researchers in grief and bereavement, palliative care, art and healing, anthropology and Latin American studies, as well as a Mexican performance sponsored by our partner the Mexican Social and Cultural Association of Victoria (MexVic –

Libby Byrne offered a presentation in this symposium exploring the powerful relationship between Art and Healing.  She shares her reflections on the experience here.

My experience of the celebration of the Day of the Dead at the NGV was one of appreciating difference and discovering connection.  As the day unfolded the common theme that seemed to undergird all of the presentations was the ongoing importance of connection in our human experience of living and dying.   Whilst the Day of the Dead is a celebration of those who have died, it offers an opportunity to talk about and explain death in a way that we can understand.  Celebrating and remembering the dead offers an opportunity for those who are living to engage creatively with the presence of death even in the midst of life.   The creation of an Ofrenda is not only a material reminder of those who have passed before, but a reassurance that we too, will be remembered by those whom we love.  In this sense the art of making and wistnessing the Ofrenda nourishes us in the art of living well.ofrendaOne of the questions that was posed at the end of the day to the panel was in regard to how this Mexican tradition might be reflected in an Australian cultural context.

cairns in halls gap


The week before I visited Halls Gap in Central Victoria and was overwelmed by the cairns that visitors choose to leave along the tracks in our national parks.  The simple message that these cairns offer to those who follow along the track seemed to be,

‘I was here’.



In response to the questions raised on this day I painted this image as the panel discussion unfolded.  I wonder if the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead is a way of gathering our individual human experiences together in the same way people have gathered stones to build a cairn.  As each precious individual story is told and finds a place within a much larger story, we somehow seem to reach beyond the importance of our own ‘selves’ and learn to say,

‘We were here … and we are together’












‘We are here… and we are together’

Libby Byrne, 2014. Gouache on Canvas, 105cm X 150cm.




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