Satirical Illustrations: Tucson Botanical Gardens displays Catrina figures by artist Ricardo Soltero

beautiful flower arches with walkway in ornamental plants garden

BY Laura Latzko

Catrinas, or skull figures adorned in elegant clothing, are often part of Day of the Dead celebrations. The concept developed from work by Jose Guadalupe Posada, whose satirical illustrations commented on social and political structures.

The Catrina figure continues to be a symbol of how, underneath it all, people are all the same.

As part of the “La Calavera Catrina” exhibition, the Tucson Botanical Gardens will display Catrina figures designed by artist Ricardo Soltero through November 29.

The Mexican artist’s pieces have been on display at a number of Day of the Dead celebrations and cultural events, including a large Dia de Los Muertos celebration at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This is the first time his Catrina exhibition has been exhibited outside of the Denver Botanic Gardens, where it originated.

Rob Elias, director, marketing and communications for the Tucson Botanical Gardens, says the exhibition adds to Tucson’s and the garden’s multicultural offerings.

“We thought the timing was perfect to bring the exhibition to Tucson because of the history that our city has with the All Souls Procession and just the Hispanic/Latino culture we have in Tucson,” Elias says.

As part of the exhibition, the botanical gardens have on display 9-foot-tall Catrina figures, which are modeled after major figures such as artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

“They are just so beautiful and colorful that people want to come see them. The fact that they were modeled after these iconic people, it just lends itself to another great storyline for the exhibit,” Elias says.

Eight of the Catrina figures are located near a community ofrenda, where guests can place photos, notes or items in remembrance of deceased loved ones.

“It’s an important time for us to remember how fragile life is and how the connections we have with one another are so important, those who not just continue to be with us but those that are no longer with us as well,” Elias says.

The eight Catrina figures exhibited outdoors are made of fiberglass and sit on steel platforms. One other Catrina figure, which is made of papier-mache, is on display in an indoor gallery.

Thus far, the display has been received well by members of the community, who often take photos with and interact with the Catrina figures. One group of women came out to the garden dressed as Catrina figures.

The exhibition is on view during daytime and special nighttime hours. On Thursdays through Sundays, the botanical gardens offers special time slots from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 to 9 p.m.

The garden has recently added LED lights that highlight the Catrinas and the garden. During the fall, patrons have a chance to see cactus and other plants, such as hibiscus and marigolds, that are in bloom.

Tickets must be prepurchased due to the gardens’ adherence to social distancing guidelines, and guests are required to wear masks.

The botanical gardens also has on display through January 3 an exhibition called “Bird Houses and Nests,” developed by the local organization SculptureTucson. As part of the exhibition, 13 artists created abstract sculptures inspired by bird houses and nests.

Through January 3, patrons can also see watercolor paintings by Lucy Masterman, who often paints garden- and nature-themed pieces inspired by her walks at the garden.