Elevating the piñata

By , on August 23, 2017


For most New Mexicans, pinatas are those colorful donkeys or other figures stuffed with candy that children at birthday parties break with a stick. (Photo by slgckgc/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
For most New Mexicans, pinatas are those colorful donkeys or other figures stuffed with candy that children at birthday parties break with a stick. (Photo by slgckgc/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For most New Mexicans, piñatas are those colorful donkeys or other figures stuffed with candy that children at birthday parties break with a stick.

But contemporary artist Justin Favela raises the papier-mache technique to the level of fine art.

Favela’s home away from home since Monday has been the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Art Museum as he attempted to stick to a tight deadline he didn’t want to break.

The Las Vegas, Nevada-based artist has been installing an unusual mural that reflects the NHCC’s current show, “The Piñata Exhibit (Sure to be a Smash Hit!).” And he has until today to finish it.

Which could be quite a feat, since the mural is a wall-size piece, constructed piñata-style out of tiny strips of paper meticulously glued by the artist’s hand to a cardboard backing.

Though Favela faces an imminent deadline, there will be plenty of time for piñata connoisseurs to see how the professional pastes paper. “The Piñata Exhibit,” which opened June 23, runs through March 31.

Favela said the mural he is creating was inspired by the area surrounding the NHCC.

As he was being driven around Barelas, he was stopped in his tracks by the El Madrid Bar. It was opened decades ago by George Madrid and was a hot spot for blues music, as well as traditional norteno music.

And the bar is adorned with murals on the mission-style building.

“I wanted to pay tribute to a landmark that was around the area,” Favela said. “I could see that at one point this place was important. Judging by the murals, it was a family-owned business. I think the murals are of the father and son.”

Favela said spending time at the NHCC and Albuquerque has added another dimension to how he views Latinos.

“The culture here is so unique. People have been here for hundreds of years. They are from New Mexico. It’s cool to be around those types of people,” he said.

Favela is a contemporary artist who focuses on piñata style, which includes working with paper, lots of it.

“I like using paper, because everybody understands it,” he said. “The material is very accessible and anybody can make it. (With my art), I’m elevating the materials that I use.”

His previous works have carried themed titles such as 2014’s “Lowrider Piñata,” 2017’s “Gypsy Rose Piñata,” and “Piñata Motel” in 2016. A recent major work was “Fridalandia,” which was an installation at the Denver Art Museum this year. Favela also hosts the podcast “Latinos Who Lunch,” which takes a look at Latino issues.

Tey Marianna Nunn, NHCC Art Museum director, knew of Favela’s paper work and wanted to incorporate artists who use piñata techniques in this exhibit.

She said getting an artist of Favela’s stature to install a work at the NHCC adds to the piñata exhibit.

“The reason for this was to highlight the entire trajectory of piñata making, as well as help to elevate how people think of piñata making and piñatas — to re-categorize or reconsider them as fine art — because they are,” Nunn said. “I tracked him down through colleagues and communicated with him through Facebook. One phone call later and he said he was in.”