Sep 14, 2012

In memoriam

Remember the marigold flowers I was beading (see the earlier post Dia de los Muertos)? For a big project that I thought was going to become my first true art piece? Well, do I have some news for you..........

After buying a mask from West Africa on South Chicago's African Festival of the Arts last September, and working on it on and off for the last year, I have now finished the beadwork! It's loaded with symbolism, and it is in memory of someone dear to me who passed away. It is my interpretation of a calavera de azucar, or sugar skull, a Mexican tradition used to remember the dead. Traditions connected with the Day of the Dead include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting their grave with these as gifts.

The skulls are molded from a sugar paste, decorated with icing, glitter and foil, then placed on altars as decoration and eaten on the Day of the Dead. The sugar represents the sweetness of life, and the skull represents the sadness of death. The first initial of the deceased is carved out on the sugar skull's forehead, and the eye sockets are covered with marigold flowers, which scent is believed to attract the soul and draw them back. Marigolds are also a symbol of passion and creativity, attributes that are an apt description of the person I commemorate with this piece.


My skull is part dark, part light, symbolizing both the balance as well as the conflict between good and evil, yin and yang, life's sweetness and life's suffering. The dark section is made up of leather lilies, another flower symbolizing many things. Of these many meanings, I chose the lily for its symbol of the short-lived. The light sections contain circles made of lace-like beadwork, calling out memories of the old fashioned crocheted doilies from my childhood in Holland.
'Gehaakt kleedje' - Dutch for dowdy doily
These doilies were multi-purpose and all over: as coasters under potted pants, as little table decorations, on the headrest of sofas and chairs to protect the fabric from hair grease stains. You know, from "soul glo".

The soul glo-sofa from the movie 'Coming to America'
So the lacy circles symbolize my heritage, as well as our shared rebellion against Dutch dowdiness. Their circular shape also stands for continuation. Continuation of good things, of creativity, of continued rebellion against dowdiness. My skull is almost finished - after grouting the beadwork and placing the marigold flowers on the eyes, it is going to be an in memoriam. A long-lived one.

GABROEN on behalf of Gabriella


  1. Wow Gabriella! I'm blown away! Incredible piece! Would love to see more pictures.


  2. Absolutely breath taking, and what a feat, to stay the course for something with so much meaning and so much art! Fantastic.

  3. The mask is spectacular!!! It is amazingly beautuful! Jo

  4. It is wonderful, Gabriella. When you described some of the inspiration, I had to smile. Shaking off the Dutch dowdiness, whilst still embracing some of the inspirations of the doilies. I recognised that. I had to work hard to shake the Dutch must do's like scrubbing your stoep on wednesday en vrijdag gehaktdag. Still, it appears in my art and strength of character. I love this memoriam to Baas.

  5. Gabriella,
    It's beautiful, powerful, and perfect. LOVE the symbolism and potency of the personal transcending to the universal. The flowers are the crowning glory, the bright accent that makes the black and white patterning punch. You did it (!!!), but then I thought you already were doing it. Bravo!
    Big hug,