Eerie, funny, and sometimes intense, this museum explores Mexico’s ever-present relationship with death.
Located in the city of Aguascalientes, the National Museum of Death opened to the public in the summer of 2007 as a permanent collection belonging to the University of Aguascalientes, after the institution inherited hundreds of death-related artifacts amassed over Octavio Bajonero Gil’s lifetime, including some of his own artwork.
Seven years into its operation, however, the mission of the Museum was refined, as its collection expanded in the direction of depicting the historic role of death’s iconography and the funereal arts within Mexican culture, both contemporary and ancient. Integral in this expansion were artifacts from the personal collection of one Daniel Mercurio López Casillas.
Throughout this process of the investigation, the Museum’s curators conveyed the wide range of Mexican society’s relationship towards death and Santa Muerte himself, ranging from the popular portrayal of a people who are always joking and laughing about mortality, to the nitty gritty — sometimes quite graphic — reality of death most corporeal. Paintings, sculptures, lithographs, and photos are used to illustrate points along the way, explaining the relationship of Mexico’s culture with death via images rather than words.
Step by step, the Museum takes its visitors through a history of death, across the land now known as Mexico. Starting in the pre-hispanic epoch, the exhibits follow a timeline through the periods of Spanish Conquistadors’ domination and decimation, to the reassertion of Mexican independence, up to the contemporary period, including the international community’s appropriation of the sugar skull in pop culture.
What results is an experience described by a recent visitor as an “interesting surprise,” particularly vibrant and multifaceted given what could easily have come off as gloomy, dismal subject matter.