by Emily Draper
"Feast of the Dead" by Edouard Boubat. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In Edouard Boubat’s portrayal of the “Feast of the Dead,” he displays food as a bridge between life and death through a religiously charged, disconcerting scene. This setting lacks the vitality ordinarily required for a feast, alluding to the characterization of this environment as an “anti-feast.” Anti-feasts negate or exclude the values of a classic feast, such as togetherness and communion. Boubat highlights how death is a renewal of life through his inclusion of the dead in this anti-feast to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
The Mexican “Día de los Muertes” holiday typically features the spirited celebration of the lives of loved ones, and its festivities encourage guests to both accept and commend the circle of life (Garrett and Soriano). The graves in this photo are set to look like dinner tables. A masked man is displayed as the host of this atypical feast, his anonymous identity representing the entire living community, and those buried below the tables constitute the guests of the feast, receiving sustenance provided to them by the living. This holiday typically features symbolic offerings to the dead, decoratively displayed on tables that serve as altars. The pieces of nourishment placed atop these graves, dead flowers, will literally decompose to provide nutrients for soil-dwellers, which now include the buried guests. This process is representative of the circle of life, a concept which Boubat addresses here while he shows how fleeting nature of life will continue eternally after physical death.
It is interesting to juxtapose Boubat’s treatment of the connections between feasting and the dead with a contrasting treatment in Juzo Itami’s 1985 film, Tampopo. In this brief scene, a crying family feasts on a meal cooked by their deceased mother, who experiences a sudden death while serving the food. This clip merges life and death through this family consuming all that remains of the mother’s life, her prepared food, as a means of immediate mourning. Boubat’s interpretation of the feast, inclusive of both the dead and the living, contrasts this by providing a more longitudinal scene in which the concept of death is being celebrated. In The Feast of the Dead, the dead are being served in order to depict death here as an extension of life rather than an ending.
The preparation of the feast by the host and its Catholic adornments present the idea that the dead can still participate in the process of eating and obtaining sustenance. By digging the candles into the graves, the man is even creating a physical linkage between the world below and the living world through a symbol of feast and ceremony, as a final touch to communicate how this “feast” is a connection between life and death.
Garrett, Kenneth, and Tino Soriano. “Top 10 Things to Know about the Day of the Dead.” National Geographic, 29 Oct. 2019, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/mexico/top-ten-day-of-dead-mexico/.
Itami, Juzo, director. Tampopo. Itami Productions, 1985.