James Bond’s skeleton makers

The opening of the 2015 James Bond film Spectre was filmed in Mexico City and is meant to depict celebrations of Day of the Dead in the city. While not entirely accurate, the skull masks and giant skeletal figures that parades on the street were made by a local cartoneria (paper mache) cooperative, whose work has become a focal point in making monumental pieces for events.

This group is called the Última Hora (Last Hour) collective. Founded in 2005, it currently has five members Juan Vazquez Morales, Marco Osorio Maldonado, Raul Osorio Maldonado, Ernesto Carbajal Ortiz and Ramon Espinoza Juarez. Two, Juan and Raul are founding members. All are artisans in their own right, and long-term associates of the Arts and Trades Factory East (Fábrica de Artes y Oficios Oriente, FARO), a unique city-supported school for handcrafts and trades on the poor east side of Mexico City.

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Members of the group with Judas figure at the Museo Moralense de Arte Popular in Cuernavaca

The collective represents a growing trend among Mexico City cartoneria scene, with the addition of monumental pieces meters tall and tens and even hundreds of kilos in weight. The trend towards larger  pieces started with the life-sized skeletal figures made by the Linares family from the 1960s on, but has reached monstrous proportions starting in the early 2000s, with Ultima Hora and FARO in the forefront.

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Aztec god of death by the group at the entrance to the 2010 Day of the Dead communal altar in the Mexico City Square (Zocalo)

The collective has it origins in a project that was done by Juan, Raul and friends from FARO, who were invited to help make floats for the 2004 Veracruz carnival. While not exactly cartonería, the floats employed many of the same techniques, but at a much larger scale than was was done in cartoneria at the time. The first monumental pieces were made around the same time, in particular the making of a “tzompantli” (Aztec rack for the exhibition of the skulls of the sacrificed) that filled the stage for a concert by the rock group Panteón Rococó. The entire set up with cartoneria skulls meters high, and when it was set up, no one was sure if the stage would support the weight. (It did.)

The success of this piece led to commissions for the group by govenment and civic organizations as well as large businesses. Most of their production is related to Day of the Dead mega altars, which often have themes and/or elements honoring specific persons. The inauguration of the Monumental Alebrije Parade by the Museo de Arte Popular has given the group another well-publicized outlet for their creativity as well. Since then, their talents have been utilized all over Mexico City and into neighboring states such as State of Mexico and Puebla. Their work displayed on the main square of Mexico City caught the attention of set people for the James Bond films, which invited them to compete for the bid to make the skeletal figures for the movie.

The group creates year-round and teaches students various schools in the Mexico City area, along with supporting students at FARO, where they are based. Their work has led to an explosion of interest in cartoneria, and makes the cartonería classes at FARO among the first to fill every term.

Featured image courtesy of Ultima Hora/Juan Vazquez. The rest are by Alejandro Linares Garcia

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