The celebration of the festivals of All Saints and All Souls at the beginning of November evolved in Mexico into a joyful and ironic commemoration of the dead who experience a brief return to the pleasures of their former existence. Death is personified in many materials – in printed images, in sugar, paper stencils cut with chisels and papier mâché – the skeletons often appearing in scenes which are used as a vehicle for social and political satire.
The most famous artist associated with this genre was José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913) whose satirical broadsheets took their name from the word for skeleton or skull, Calavera. They were greatly admired as a form of folk art by many left-wing artists in particular, including the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein, who was working in Mexico in 1931–32.
Among the most notable heirs to this tradition are the Linares family of Mexico City, who specialize in the production of elaborate and sometimes large-scale papier mâché figures, their imagery often inspired by Posada's prints. The Atomic Apocalypse is composed of 132 pieces which includes specific references to actual events and areas of ongoing political conflict, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Biafran War (1966–70), and the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1901–89) in Iran. It was acquired in 1989 by the British Museum's Department of Ethnography, and included as part of The Skeleton at the Feast, an exhibition devoted to the Day of the Dead at the Museum of Mankind from 1991 to 1994.