La Cabeza (The Head) is a public work of art, a memento mori, and a meditation room at once.
It was while working on the Tarot Garden that de Saint Phalle developed the technique of covering the surfaces of the buildings/sculptures with custom made clay tiles (made on site) and mirrors. In 1992 she moved to La Jolla where she discovered glass beads, stones, and abalone shells that she could use, as well as the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead. It is perhaps that tradition (and of course the loaded subject of the skull as a memento mori in western art history) that informs La Cabeza as a face of death that is at once festive contemplative, and hospitable: death as a transformation and not the end of everything. Once inside, visitors are sucked into the little room, which reflects life back to them with its myriad of mirrors.
Niki represented death ever since she started making art — beginning with the shooting paintings for the catalogue of her first exhibition at the Iolas gallery in Paris in 1962, she wrote prophetically, “You will adorn death with the enchantments of childhood”. This sculpture, made at the end of her life, is her apotropaic manierist fetish, as she was facing her own death.