In 1992, I went to Bolivia at the end of October. I wanted to see the celebration for Dia de los Muertos. I talked to the concierge at the hotel. After some confusion, he smiled and said, “Oh, you mean Fiesta de Difuntos, Day of the Deceased. You have to go out to the villages; it is not celebrated in the city.” He found me a taxi driver who took me to the Alto, above La Paz, to see the celebration. I was the only tourist there, and those tending to their dead were not at all pleased to have me around. A couple screamed out angry remarks in Aymara. I asked the taxi driver who spoke Aymara what they said. He didn’t answer. I stayed very close to the taxi driver and decided that taking pictures was out of the question.
I asked the taxi driver about the bread dolls. He said they are called tantawawas. Tanta is the Quechua word for bread. Wawa means daughter or son or respect for the mother.
The shrine I created incorporated many traditional elements, but represented my interpretation of the essence of Fiesta de Difuntos. I used weavings, but rather than the hand-woven jewel colors, I used the phosphorescent, machine made acrylic weavings which were plentiful at the Bolivian markets. As accents, I included some older weavings of animals from Potolo. On top of the weavings sat a pink iMac. The backdrop for the shrine for the shrine I created was 14-foot wall, which I decided to paint a cerulean blue. Hung on the wall, the Tantawawas and ladders appeared to be floating into the upper world.
The interactive multimedia piece included movies, images, music and voice to tell the story of Fiesta de Difuntos, in relationship to the Andean agricultural calendar.Andean festivals are based on the agricultural cycle. The seasons are divided up into the dry season, which begins with the harvest, and the wet season, which is the time of planting. Fiesta de Difuntos is the beginning of the planting season. It is a sad time, when they must work hard planting and tending. They must honor Pachamama, mother earth, so that she will bring plentiful harvests. It is a time when only flute music is played. At the beginning of the harvest, they celebrate Carnival.