If you haven’t heard yet, you might want to mark your calendars. The 20th Annual All Souls Procession is on Sunday, November 8. It’s the centerpiece of what has become a quintessential Tucson tradition and many people around town have been busy getting ready. In case you’re not familiar with this unique event, you can expect see over 15 thousand participants pour onto the streets of downtown Tucson in a celebration of the lives of those departed.
“There are a lot of different groups of people that help put on the parade,” she says. “It’s a real collective and collaborative process… it’s really beautiful in that respect.”
In 1990, Susan Johnson planted the seed for what is now one of the largest and most inclusive public ritualistic performances in America. And it began with the need to grieve the death of her father. Johnson says that she had a “love/hate” relationship with her father and she needed to “process" his death after the funeral. “It was so wonderful because it just let me free myself of so many emotions," she says. "It was incredible.”
The All Souls Procession Weekend has changed over the years, but it remains at the core a celebration of the lives of loved ones that have passed away. The preparations for the main event begin early in the year, and involve many groups throughout the community. Matt Cotton is an artist and puppet-maker. He’s been involved with the All Souls Procession for many years now, and leads a puppet- and mask-making workshop for people interested in honoring a departed family member or friend. “We’re about half way through the preparatory season,” he says during a class in early October. “Although you can say we’ve been working on it all year,” he adds after a pause.
Nadia Hagen is a member of Flam Chen, the celebrated performance art group known for its use of fire, and the artistic director for the All Souls Procession. She describes the procession as an event in which the walls between performers and audiences are broken down. “The procession breaches that (wall) because it’s not a performance per se, and it’s this experience between performer and audience that makes the art valid.”
Although the inspiration for the All Souls Procession lies in the Mexican traditions of Dia de Los Muertos, this event has evolved into something entirely different. The experience of Tucson’s All Souls Procession has become unique to Tucson, says Fatima Brecht. She’s the curator for Latin American art at the Tucson Museum of Art, and she points out that the sense of community that is created around this artistic expression is something that transcends the historical origins of the traditions. It’s become a “hybrid that is unique to its place,” she adds, and “that’s the interesting thing.” The Procession “might not always make sense: the composition, the giants, etc. We always try to categorize this type of thing you can’t.” Find out how you can be a part of this year's All Souls Procession Week activities by visiting Many Mouths One Stomach.