Hollywood Forever: The King of Day of the Dead Festivals

Immortalis at Day of the Dead at Hollywood Forever: All Photos - Jack Burke
Immortalis at Day of the Dead at Hollywood Forever: All Photos – Jack Burke

There are many Day of the Dead Festivals throughout Los Angeles. This celebration of life, memories, and the soul that survives when the body departs is a key part of Aztec culture. Once held in August, the Spanish moved the holiday to November 1, to coincide with the very Catholic All Souls Day. Today, in Southern California, the celebrations begin before Halloween and stretch into November.


October 24th was the date for this year’s Hollywood Forever Dios de los Muertos celebration, and it was a jam packed and eventful as ever. Titled this year the “Shamanic Visions of the Huichol,”  the Huichol were once considered a culture of shamans, and the sense of a conjured and dream like tribute was certainly a part of this year’s dazzling event. A mash-up of art scene, costume party, great music and dance, this is a “Deadman’s Party” even Oingo Boingo would be thrilled to attend.




Naturally, the centerpiece here are the altars, crafted by a myriad of participants from individuals to art schools to non-profits.








Also on display: amazing musical artistry on three separate stages throughout the cemetery. Among the musical highlights was the tempestuous, sensual vocals of Malena Durán, and the rhythmic, dream-like dances of the Libre Movimiento. Also on hand: authentic Mexican dishes from food booths – one highlight a UFO-sized quesadilla, crafts vendors offering handmade jewelry and clothing, and a central art exhibition in the Cathedral Mausoleum.






A glimpse at some of the Mausoleum-housed curated art show.









The event runs from 12 noon to 12 midnight. During the day, it’s a brightly colorful event in an appropriate setting.




Fix Nation: among the stray kitties to be fixed are those that “haunt” the cemetery grounds. Great cause, for great paws.





As night falls, colorful lights click on everywhere, vibrantly patterned light shows are projected on the walls of crypts, and glittering colored orbs float in the cemetery’s moat. A procession with Aztec blessings and dancers, costume contests, children’s art workshops, and of course, the stunning attire of both attendees and participants add to the experience.




While there are other Day of the Dead celebrations throughout the Southland, the Hollywood Forever setting – punk rocker Johnny Ramone is buried here, as is Rudolph Valentino, and Mickey Rooney – make this experience hard to top. The beauty of the cemetery itself is offset by a truly magical experience that melds music, dance, lovingly crafted altars, costumes, and lights.

Live deliciously dangerously: take on the Day of the Dead at Hollywood Forever.

The Art You Missed: A Look Back at the Unique Work of Betsebee Romero: “After and Again”




All Photos by Jack Burke
One of the most startling and beautiful installation art pieces of recent years was on display at Hollywood Forever Cemetery earlier this summer, inside the art deco-era Masonic Lodge. The site-specific public art installation was created by Mexican contemporary artist Betsabee Romero. Internationally renowned for her fascinating installations, this piece was inspired by both pre-Columbian images and pop culture. Curated by Sylvia Chivaratanod, After and Again – Skull of a Thousand Faces is rooted in poetry, and serves as a platform for artistic textiles and design.

Stunning periwinkle blue and soft gold lighting surrounded the Masonic Hall’s main room, where the walls streamed red and gold banners, delicate white Pima cotton embroidered garments were hung on winged copper hangars, and giant tires served as frames for transparent, glowing skulls. Lit paper balloons soared above the floor in this beautiful merging of textile design and sculpture.


The art of Betsebee Romero – all photos – Jack Burke


The copper wings were crafted by Ernesto Bonilla. Romero created a visceral, moving poem that defines the scope of the exhibit, “Death Flies.” In the piece, she writes “Besides the embroidery and the garments keeping them company…the wings with handcrafted copper feathers..delicately open to honor and uphold the textiles…the hands that spend hours drawing lines, faces, patterns of silk…skulls that are illuminated by imprinted flowers.”

The art of Betsebee Romero - all photos - Jack Burke
The art of Betsebee Romero – all photos – Jack Burke

In conjunction with the installation, Romero has available 200 numbered copies of a limited edition signed and numbered box, containing a Pima cotton garment, copper wing sculpture, and a hand-printed photograph of the artist.

This magical installation piece worked both as a celebration of textile-driven art, and as a moving tribute to life and death, or as Romero writes, “the fragile beauty of impermanence.” It offers a fascinating and insightful exploration of the processes, materials, and creation of art itself. To see more of Romero’s work, visit LACMA and MOCA, where several of her creations are a part of both museums’ permanent collections.

Photo by Jack Burke
Photo by Jack Burke
  • Genie Davis; all photos by Jack Burke