Art Gallery of Ballarat puts on a new face for Romancing the Skull exhibition

Eye-catching Catrinas roamed the halls of the Art Gallery of Ballarat with visitors doing a double-take at their curious face painting.

The skulls on the faces of Catherine Toro and Christine Crawshaw are traditionally associated with the Mexican Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrations.

La Catrina is traditionally a very well-dressed but colourful lady wearing a large hat covered with flowers. She represents the pretentious Mexicans who were trying to pass themselves off as Europeans during the time of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.

LA CATRINAS: Catherine Toro and Christine Crawshaw surprise Amy, 10, with their traditional Mexican skull-faced makeup to mark the upcoming Romancing the Skull exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Picture: Mark Smith

LA CATRINAS: Catherine Toro and Christine Crawshaw surprise Amy, 10, with their traditional Mexican skull-faced makeup to mark the upcoming Romancing the Skull exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Picture: Mark Smith

The message of the skull face is that all Mexicans are the same underneath the skin, regardless of their pretensions.

To mark Mexican Independence Day on Saturday, the two Catrinas wandered through the gallery with their traditional face paint to celebrate Mexican culture, the upcoming Romancing the Skull exhibition and the Dia de Muertos community festival on November 4.

Ms Toro, part of Ballarat’s Latin community, is helping organise the Day of the Dead festival which will be the state’s official celebration for Victoria’s Mexican community organisation MexVic.

“Traditionally in Mexico people go to the cemetery and build altars dedicated to their loved ones who have departed. It’s an opportunity to connect and remember and celebrate,” said Art Gallery of Ballarat spokesman Peter Freund.

“It’s not a scary time, it’s a celebration and people put on the altar food and drink and things they associate with the person who died.”

The festival, which will take place in Alfred Deakin Place in Camp Street, behind the gallery, will include Mexican food, colourful spectacles, traditional Mexican crafts and live music to honor the Mexican national holiday.

Images of skulls and skeletons are a particular feature of the event.

The Day of the Dead celebrations and the skull figures are a key component of the Romancing the Skull exhibition, which opens at the gallery on October 14.

Mr Freund said the exhibition would celebrate all things related to the skull, its power as a symbol representing death, danger, rebellion, defiance and a “devil may care” view of life.

“The exhibition looks at the skull in art and examines why we continue to be so enamoured with this iconic symbol.”

It will feature images relating to the Mexican Day of the Dead and a series of rare prints by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913) which will be displayed in Australia for the first time. New commissions will also be unveiled along with pirate skulls and poison bottles, a medieval Dance of Death and a virtual reality experience.