Art of Dying Volume II | Page 68

NADIA HAGEN Susan Johnson, a Tucson artist, started All Souls Procession in 1990 as she grieved her father’s death. In Tucson, artists tend to group together. Susan sent out an invitation to friends and then friends of friends. This was back before the Internet, when your friends were really your friends. They had to be physically present in your space to be called your friend. People shared a different level of commitment and intimacy back then. All Souls Procession aligns with Halloween and the seasonal recognition of the cycle of death and rebirth. When Susan gathered her artist friends to create this ceremony, it was in the same cultural line as Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Because Tucson is close to Mexico and so many people have family both here and there, we assimilated their culture in honoring lost relatives and death. Mexican culture flows across the border whether there's a wall or not. The Procession started from maybe 10 to 20 people. The year 200 people participated, I said, "I am motivated. I want to take this over. I have the energy for it." Susan had been doing it for seven years. She said, "Go ahead. I've been doing this long enough and I've grown it to this point. If you have the energy for it and you're excited about it, then have at it." I didn't want to limit the participation to private invitation, so I started putting up flyers, which is how you did it back in the day. You'd draw them, and then take them to a Kinko's and make crappy black and white copies. Then you'd put them up all over town. Susan had set up a model where the preparation of the art that was used for the Procession was a vital part of the event. The flyers invited the general public to free workshops in performance, float building, puppet, mask, and lantern making. I wanted more than just 200 participants in the All Souls Procession. I never expected the current participation of more than 150,000. The main thrust of our invitation is that the All Souls Procession is open to everyone. I see an incredible amount of diversity in the people who come and how they choose to use the Procession. I’ve seen priests in full Catholic regalia walking with a censer. I know he was a real priest because people asked him, "Are you for real, dude?" He was like, "Yes, I am for real. I'm for real. This is not a costume. This is me. I'm doing my thing." There are many church groups that come with banners that name their It’s healing to be physically in the presence of hundreds of thousands of other people who are willing to be in this very fragile state. 68 | ART OF DYING