Burn him! Burrrrrn him!
The eerie chant that rises up from the heart of Fort Marcy Park at the annual burning of Zozobra is just one of the many festive sounds and sights associated with the ritual destruction of Old Man Gloom, as the towering papier-mâché puppet is also known. Zozo — he has three nicknames because Santa Fe’s unofficial mascot is beloved enough to carry this weight — is a 50-foot-tall marionette stuffed with scraps of paper listing the locals’ dark thoughts and memories for the year. But when the artist Will Shuster first created him in 1924, he was just six feet tall. You could say that Zozo has gotten bigger as the City Different has also grown in size. The Zozobra Decades Project, which highlights each 10-year period of the event’s existence as the centennial of his first burning approaches in 2024, has now reached the 1960s, so this year’s puppet reflects the heady influences of the Summer of Love.
In addition to possibly giving children nightmares, Zozobra is known to inspire artists in their own renditions and interpretations. This creativity is not limited to the night our tall, sad pal gets wrecked. The Historic Santa Fe Foundation hosts an exhibition of such artwork in partnership with the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe (the official host of the annual burning of Zozobra). Zozobra Invades Canyon Road opens with a public reception at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7. Among the artwork on display are paintings by Scott Wiseman that place Zozo into well-known works, such as The Groan, based on Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and American Gloom, based on American Gothic by Grant Wood. Wiseman’s digital print, Raining Zozos, captures the sort of peak trippiness of Zozobra that might have existed in the 1960s, when hippies on hallucinogenic drugs surely had visions of dozens of the puppets falling from the sky. Though some of Wiseman’s Zozos have surprising costumes — like the barely-there swimsuit on a bare-chested and mustachioed version — all the Old Men Gloom in this storm look appropriately grumpy, yet also beseeching, which is funny as well as slightly creepy.
Visitors to Zozobra Invades Canyon Road can contribute their own notes of gloom at the foot of a miniature Zozo that will be burned as part of the 2019 ceremonies, and there is original artwork and other Zozobra merchandise for sale. Zozobra Invades Canyon Road will be on display at the Historic Santa Fe Foundation’s El Zaguán sala (545 Canyon Road) through Sept. 28. For more information, go to historicsantafe.org.