“Cemeteries could be regarded as non-social spaces due to a believed negligible amount of daily social activity between the living, the dead and the space. At the same time, the spaces of the dead are regarded as spiritually charged, dangerous and even polluted. My paper suggests that the spaces of the dead, such as the cemeteries of Mexico City, are clear examples of dynamically active memory-making spaces in which the dead are daily revered, socialised and memorialised through a combination of secular and religious contemporary funerary practices, the daily interaction between the living, the dead, the ánima and material culture. The paper analyses the phenomenon, socio-cultural and political conditions of the objectification of the dead in the internal and external spaces of the cemetery. The paper includes the investigation of life histories of its workers, mourners and daily visitors in order to explore why various communities in Mexico City have embraced and revered the materialisation and objectification of the dead such as the following of the Santa Muerte. This paper then digs deeper into the array of meanings interwoven into the fabrics of social life and spiritual stability of the living, in which the widespread embrace of material culture plays a dynamic role in the contemporary social rituals dedicated to the dead in the cemeteries of a megalopolis.” p.107

Reyes-Cortez, M. 2012: Material culture, magic and the Santa Muerte in the cemeteries of a megalopolis. Visible Religions, in Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol.13, No.1, (March, Routledge), pp. 107-131.

Mi abuela no es un cadáver

  Thursday, 08 May 2014 00:00

Jornada de Antropología – Representación visual del daño y del sufrimiento social

8 May 2014, Madrid

Departamento de Antropología Social y Cultural de la UNED, en la Escuela Pías

‘Mi abuela no es un cadáver’

Recordando los Muertos en los cementerios de Álvaro Obregón, Ciudad de México.

En este artículo voy a considerar cómo la cultura material especialmente la fotografía, apoya la continuidad de las relaciones entre los vivos y los muertos. La investigación reveló cómo personas y actividades giraban en torno a los esfuerzos sostenidos por los dolientes, visitantes y trabajadores del cementerio para activamente mantener a los muertos como participantes en la vida de los vivos. En este artículo muestro cómo la cultura material puede proporcionar el vehículo a través del cual se pueden expresar las relaciones sociales con los muertos, y al mismo tiempo hablando con y expresar las características particulares de la persona muerta. Los mismos conjuntos de objetos y fotografías crean las condiciones para nuevas experiencias que están inevitablemente ligados al proceso de recordar a los muertos

Portraits of Remembrance

  Sunday, 30 September 2007 00:00

Reyes-Cortez on Portraits of Remembrance

“When I die, I want to be buried with her. We met at school when she was 15 years old, 

and I love her now, as much as I did then, when we first met over 50 years ago.” 

The cemeteries of Mexico City


“. . . Her eyes look straight ahead, as if looking at Don Francisco talking to her, the eyes of the image reciprocates the viewer’s gaze. I suggest that at this moment the materiality of the photograph is transformed and the photograph transcends the object, it protects the dead from the ephemeral human body, overcoming the absence of the person. I suggest that the photograph preserves traces of memory and personhood, shifted from the decomposing flesh in the coffin or a cremated body in a cinerary urn to the social body of the photograph. Portraits of remembrance protect the invincibility of the dead as a social person, making the dead visible through the relationships and the value entrusted to the material/spiritual image by its mourners and visitors . . .” p.48-49.

Reyes-Cortez, M. 2010: Communicating with the Dead: Social Visibility in the Cemeteries of Mexico City, in Die Realität des Todes: Zum gegenwärtigen Wandel von Totenbildern und Erinnerungskulturen (Visibility of Death) by Dominik GroßChristoph Schweikardt (edts), pp.33-62, Campus Verlag, Germany.

Upstairs @ the RAI, Friday 31 October, 2014, 5pm

Royal Anthropological Institute

Memorialising and Commemorating the Dead in Mexico City: A critical look at the Mexican Day of the Dead

Research Seminar followed by some tasters with Dr Marcel Reyes-Cortez, Goldsmiths, University of London

In Mexico City, the dead are very present in popular culture and are manifested in the spaces of the living, for example in art, photography, cinema, literature, music, gastronomy and political rhetoric. Claudio Lomnitz argues that death and the dead in Mexico have been turned into a national ‘totem’. This social phenomenon has developed some unique social and cultural practices. This seminar will show how people symbolically represent the dead in order to include them in their social and living spaces and create memory and immortality through material culture and photographic portraits.

Through daily and yearly cycles, people develop and maintain intricate rituals involving the dead buried in the cemeteries of Alvaro Obregon, Mexico City. The conjoined landscapes of the living and the dead are spaces of personal and collective grief, charged with emotions, loaded with ethical and moral obstacles and obligations. Based on his PhD field research, Marcel Reyes-Cortez documents the numerous ways in which the living and the dead remain connected over generations. This involves long-term relationships and a range of activities (cemetery workers, flower-growers, coffin makers, etc.).


Please book your free place: http://rai-day-of-the-dead.eventbrite.com

Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street
London, W1T 5BT, United Kingdom


European Social Science History Conference, April 2012.

Abstract: ‘Visual research in the cemeteries of Mexico City: Photography, a social research method’

My visual research project explores how through daily and yearly cycles, the bereaved, mourners and workers develop and maintain intricate funerary rituals involving the dead buried in the cemeteries of Mexico City. Commemorative visual and material culture both religious and secular already plays an important role in mourners’ everyday life and activities. A more extensive use of the photograph and the practice of photography became a valuable social research tool, especially when looking at the exchanges and interactions between the dead, memory and the visual material worlds that assist the living, the dead and the ánima (spirit/soul) to stay connected in the spaces in which they interact.

I have chosen to explore the above social and cultural processes in part through a visual methodology, documenting meticulously through photographs as well as text the numerous ways in which the living and the dead remain connected over generations. The practice of photography eased and speeded the entry into the cemetery and mourners private and public spaces, it also opened access to the possibilities of collaboratory encounters within the field and with those people with whom I was working. Thus, I examined and extensively recorded through photography the cyclical memorialising and mourning practices, ritualised routines, and daily habits associated with the dead and the cemetery space in the borough of Álvaro Obregón, Mexico City. A visual methodology in combination with traditional ethnographic methods such as participant observation, formal and informal interviews, investigation of life histories of the bereaved, mourners, visitors and workers with an overview of contemporary Mexican funerary practices in Mexico City offered the project a productive instrument, providing a more nuanced understanding of the bereaved and mourner’s ideas about their relationships with the dead.

11-14 April 2012: ‘European Social Science History Conference’

Programme: University of Glasgow

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