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Seeing Death: Aguascalientes, Mexico

Not only did Octavio Bajonero Gil donate hundreds of death-related artworks and artisanal objects to the National Museum of Death in Aguascalientes, Mexico, he created some of them — including “Metamorfosis,” show here. Although most Western cultures tend to treat death with fear and loathing, Mexicans tend to embrace it, a mind-set that is reflected in the holdings of the 2-month-old museum, whose mood may strike the visitor as more celebratory than sepulchral. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
Marisol Gomez is the creator of “Recuerdos” (Memories), a wood engraved print. In Mexico and other Latin American cultures, death isn’t merely a depressing curtain-closer but rather a passage into a kind of parallel reality whose inhabitants enjoy the same pleasures and suffer many of the same tribulations as the living. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
“La Mascara” is another work by Octavio Bajonero Gil, who not only is a crucial donor to the National Museum of Death but one of Mexico’s most esteemed graphic artists. Bajonero’s collection now fills six galleries of an elegantly restored 17th century convent in Aguascalientes, about a six-hour drive northwest of Mexico City. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
“La Catrina” is a satirical calavera (skull) by José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), a master engraver and native of Aguascalientes, which also has a museum devoted to his life and work. Indeed, the prosperous city of about 630,000 is known for its annual Festival of Skulls during Day of the Dead week. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
Putting a whimsical spin on the Parisian landmark is “La Torre Eiffel” by Manuel Manilla, also a Mexican artist of note. For that matter, every object in the museum was made “by Mexican hands,” says García, the institution’s director general. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
“El Quijote” by Jose Guadalupe Posada (Mexico’s National Museum of Death in Aguascalientes, Mexico, August 9, 2007) (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
¡§El Nino de la Suerte¡¨ (The Child of Luck) projects serenity. Museum donor Bajonero was a student when he began acquiring death-themed objects, including objects that no longer are made or that exemplify a generational know-how that is dying out. ¡§When I realized I had an important collection with 1,500 objects, I thought, ¡¥What am I going to do with all this?¡¦ƒ|¡¨ he wondered. And thus the birth of a museum about death. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
A sculpture of Cihuateotl. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
A funeral offering from the 7th century is one of the oldest pre-Columbian artifacts in the National Museum of Death. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
A mold taken of the face of Mexican 19th century reformist president Benito Juarez after his death on July 18, 1872. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
A pre-Columbian artifact draws the gaze of a young museum visitor. The museum’s holdings were assembled by Bajonero over 50 years. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
A family casually makes its way among pieces that include a skeleton. “For the Mexican, [death] is very natural, as natural as to be born. It’s not a tragedy,” says Bajonero. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)
The courtyard of the former Carmelite convent that houses the museum, which is organized and operated by the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes. (Jennifer Szymaszek / For The Times)