Days of the Dead Festival at the British Museum

30 October – 2 November 2015
Free

Supported by BP
In association with the Government of Mexico as part of 2015: Year of Mexico in the UK

A free festival of art, performance, storytelling and talks at the British Museum to celebrate the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, 30 October – 2 November, supported by BP and in association with the Government of Mexico as part of 2015: Year of Mexico in the UK.

In Mexico, Day of the Dead is an annual celebration on 1 and 2 November where families gather to remember their relatives and friends who passed away. Aspects of Day of the Dead can be traced back 3,000 years among Mexico’s pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures. Contemporary festivals reflect a blend of native traditions and Catholic beliefs. These include building private altars, honouring the dead using marigolds, foods, sometimes sugar skulls, and beverages favoured by the deceased during their lifetime, and visiting their graves with these as gifts.

Following the huge success of Day of the Dead celebrations at the British Museum in 2009 which were also supported by BP, the Museum will stage the festival again over four days and includes a Friday evening event, a weekend of family activities and a study day on Monday. Throughout the festival the Museum will be elaborately decorated with art installations by Mexican artists with a focus on the Great Court and the Forecourt. One of the major artworks will be by Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero who will create a spectacular art intervention based on a Day of the Dead altar. Betsabeé will suspend a series of hot air balloon style tissue paper skulls and metal skeletons from the ceiling of the Great Court, as well as hanging banners from the drum of the Round Reading Room and decorating the stairs with ‘serpents’ of tissue paper marigolds.

The British Museum will also be temporarily displaying gigantic skeletons for the festival – film props from the new James Bond film, Spectre, which is released in UK cinemas on 26 October. The opening sequence of the film is set during a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. Skeletons from the movie will be at the Main entrance of the Museum and a dramatic 11-metre skeleton will be on display in the Great Court.

The Day of the Dead Late event on Friday 30 October will be a special evening of music, roving performances, displays and film screenings, with the Museum building lit up with colourful projected animations. Mexican food and drink will be available throughout the evening, including street food and tequila cocktails. Visitors are encouraged to come to the Late dressed up and with painted faces although there will be a facepainting station for those who want to get involved on arrival courtesy of the London School of Beauty and Make up. Tupac Martir of Satore Studios has created an animation which will bring the front façade of the Museum to life throughout the evening. Inspired by traditional Day of the Dead festival imagery there will be six sections focussing on different iconic elements, including papel picardo (cut paper) flags, Catrina skeletons, Monarch butterflies and a segment encompassing the Museum’s own collection of prints by José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Following participation in the celebrations in 2009 at the British Museum, Danza Antigua will return with a spectacular danse macabre from the underworld, marrying romance, high-calibre dance and exhilarating stilt-based acrobatics by Scarabeus Aerial Theatre in the Great Court. In the Wellcome Gallery there will be a live DJ set by Andres Saenz De Sicilia creating a soundscape of Mexican records spinning through the night. This dynamic set will also include rare field recordings made on research trips across Mexico. The musical experience will also include the Latin American electronic project of brothers Raúl & Paulina Sotomayor who are coming from Mexico City especially for the occasion. Performance Storytelling will be presented by the Crick Crack Club who will create a very special evening of ritual, stories, music and magical mayhem, inspired by the Day of the Dead, where dead ancestors are honoured and Death is mocked, cheated and saluted by turn.

The Family festival over the weekend, Saturday 31 October and Sunday 1 November, will be an event for all ages over the half-term break. There will be a range of art displays, storytelling, films, music and dance. The Samsung Digital Discovery Centre will provide drop-in digital activities based on making personalised altars. Families will have the opportunity to create digital collage using altar motifs. They will explore objects from the British Museum collection and find out the meaning of different elements and motifs of altars using eboards. All collages created by families will be composed into a joint collage that will be digitally displayed in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre. Mandinga Arts were a popular feature from the 2009 Day of the Dead programme and they return to lead a roaming performance on Sunday 1 November across prescribed trails around the Museum. There will also be self-guided trails specially created for families for the festival to explore the Museum looking at related objects from different cultures.

A Study day will conclude the Days of the Dead Festival on Monday 2 November. The programme will include lectures, gallery talks and activities explaining the rich cultural significance of the Mexican Day of the Dead. Featured guest speakers including Dr Elizabeth Baquedano from UCL Institute of Archaeology who will discuss Concepts of Death and the Afterlife among the Aztecs; Prof Patience Schell from the University of Aberdeen who will explore the Day of the Dead in Mexican literature, with reference to the works of important Mexican writers; and acclaimed artist Demián Flores who will be in conversation with British Museum curators, Jago Cooper and Laura Osorio Sunnucks about his series “De/construcción de Una Nación (2012)” and the Museum’s recent acquisition of “Santa Sangre” from the series.

Social media participation will enable audiences all over the world to enjoy and get involved in the events. There will be two Periscope broadcasts on Monday 2 November during the study day – one in English and one in Spanish. The broadcasts can be watched live within the Periscope app or on a web browser (on a link from Twitter), and a replay version will be available for 24 hours afterwards in the app, then on the British Museum’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Sir Richard Lambert, Chairman of the British Museum Trustees said “Following the great success and popularity of the British Museum’s Day of the Dead celebrations in 2009 I am delighted that the Museum will once again be staging this colourful festival of free events for all the family. The programme represents a rich selection of activities and events that will convey the significance and celebration of the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead. I would like to thank BP and the Mexican Embassy for their support in helping us to present the Days of the Dead Festival to our visitors.

Diego Gomez Pickering, Mexican Ambassador to the UK said “We are delighted to have partnered with the British Museum and BP to bring this important Mexican festival in the 2015: Year of Mexico in the UK. The remembrance of the dead is an important part of every culture and Mexico has a particularly vibrant way of commemorating the deceased. The annual celebrations of the Day of the Dead are a significant moment for the living as they gather in their communities to celebrate loved ones who have departed. It is wonderful to be able to give visitors to the Museum a taste of this unique tradition through the activities planned for this very special weekend.”

Bob Dudley, Chief Executive BP, said, “BP has operated in Mexico for more than 50 years and we have been headquartered here in the UK for over a century. Our longstanding partnership with the British Museum has helped make possible this important celebration of Mexico’s culture and traditions and we are proud to play a part in the UK-Mexico Dual Year.”

Notes to Editors:

Days of the Dead Festival
30 October – 2 November 2015
Free
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG

Supported by BP
In association with the Government of Mexico as part of 2015: Year of Mexico in the UK

Late event
Friday 30 October, 18.30–21.30
A special evening of music, performances, displays and workshops to celebrate the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Free, just drop in

Family festival
Saturday 31 October & Sunday 1 November, 11.00–16.00
With art, storytelling, films, music, dance and digital workshops in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, it’s a fun-filled weekend for all ages!
Free, just drop in

Study day
Monday 2 November, 10.30–16.30
A day of lectures, talks and activities explaining the rich cultural significance of the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Free, booking required for each lecture

Further details available at britishmuseum.org/dotd
+44 (0)20 7323 8181

British Museum opening times 
Monday – Thursday 10.00–17.30 
Friday 10.00–20.30 
Saturday – Sunday 09.00–17.30

Follow updates on the festival via Twitter with #DaysoftheDead #MXUK2015and follow the Museum @britishmuseum

About BP
BP is proud to support the British Museum’s Day of the Dead Festival, part of the UK-Mexico Dual Year 2015, a cultural collaboration and exchange between the two countries. This lively and colourful celebration of Mexico’s rich history and traditions, we hope, will engage and inspire visitors and encourage more people to visit Mexico.

BP operates in 80 countries worldwide including Mexico, where we have operated for over 50 years. Our presence in the country has developed over the years, today we have a leading lubricants business, as well as trading natural gas, oil and refined products. In addition our non-commercial technology collaboration with Pemex, Mexico’s national oil company, spans over 20 years.

BP has a long history as a major supporter of arts and culture in the UK. We have partnered with the British Museum since 1996, supporting a diverse range of initiatives including the creation of the BP Lecture Theatre. Today our support for the Museum is focused on its special exhibitions programme.

BP’s long term partnerships with the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Opera House and Tate Britain, together represent one of the most significant corporate investments in UK arts and culture.

About the Mexican Embassy
2015 has been declared as the Year of Mexico in the UK and of the UK in Mexico, a programme of cultural, educational and economic events to promote a better understanding between our societies, strengthen co-operation in various areas, support innovative projects and motivate business. The Government of Mexico, together with multiple counterparts, has prepared a programme of more than 150 activities in the four countries of the UK based in a multidisciplinary model that highlights the diversity of the cultural heritage of Mexico, its rich history and strong traditions, whilst at the same time showcasing its contributions to contemporary art in the global scene. For more information, please visit mexicouk2015.mx

For further information on the British Museum please contact the Press Office on +44 (0)20 7323 8583 / 8394 or communications@britishmuseum.org

High resolution images and caption sheet available at http://ow.ly/SVIhR

Days of the Dead festival 2015, British Museum press release