After two months of painstakingly assembling and painting devil-like cardboard figures, commonly known as “Judas,” Mexican artist Marcela Villarreal is determined to burn her creations.
Villarreal and dozens of fellow artists created figures before the annual “Fire.” JudasA celebration that takes place in Mexico every Holy Saturday, when throughout the country people gather in public streets to light torches that will destroy these various figures as symbolic figures of evil.
This festival – filled with satirical humor – is not associated with the celebrations of Holy Week with the Catholic Church in this predominantly Catholic country. It is a common practice in most Latin American countries and in some parts of Greece.
Originally, the burning figures were effigies of Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, according to the biblical account of the days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. Today, though, Mexican artists the image of their red Judas, horned, or other evil characters seen throughout society.
Villarreal and other artists made 12 figures at Saturday’s event in the Santa Maria la Ribera neighborhood of Mexico City. Five of them were hanged from the branches and destroyed; others will be displayed in a nearby museum.
“It’s a spectacle to see how fired up Judas is to see the reaction of the people,” said Villarreal.
Researcher Abraham Domínguez, in an article published by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, wrote that this ritual originated in Europe in the Middle Ages and reached America with the Spanish conquest.
Although it is not known when it first took place on this continent, the oldest records date from the 19th century. In more recent times, variations of the tradition have drawn criticism as antisemitic in some countries. A 2019 event in Poland was condemned by the World Jewish Congress and others.
But in Mexicothe tradition embraces positivity and fun.
“By exploding the rocket, evil and betrayal are symbolically destroyed,” Domínguez wrote. “In the burning of Judas, social evil becomes laughable.”
In the few Mexican neighborhoods that host this event, some satirical figures that look like politicians are also burning.
“They’re on fire because of what they’re accusing people of,” Villarreal said. It’s a way of talking about disagreement with jokes, she said.
Villarreal has spent more than a decade working on “cartoneria” like creating papier-mache art. sculptures it’s known. Remarkably, “cartoneria” creations fill the streets of Mexico during the celebrations of the dead at the end of October and the beginning of November.
In both figures lies a skeleton covered with newspaper and cardboard. Depending on the weather conditions and how quickly the glue dries, it may take several weeks of work to be ready.
Villarreal speaks enthusiastically about the 10-foot-tall Juda herself and her colleagues at this year’s celebration in Santa Maria la Ribera.
His body was covered with masks, that is, with the seven deadly sins. It’s terrible,” he said.
Painted in blue, red, and yellow, the diabolical character is spared from the fire. After Sunday it will be transferred to the Pulque Museum, a few kilometers from Santa Maria la Ribera.
This year’s celebrations in this Mexican neighborhood began on Thursday at the Lord’s Supper. Activities included workshops, talks, raffles and dances.
“We are very pleased to see our work as part of the tradition,” Villarreal said. “It brings together those who were probably unaware of this tradition.”