This young artist based in Sin City is using piñatas to make a statement on human rights and racial equality.
Justin Favela is a 30-year-old Latino artist who proudly lives in Las Vegas, a city rich with self-expression and color — much like his art.
Favela is a mixed-media artist, but he mostly makes piñatas. Why piñatas? Growing up, Favela didn't like the forced masculinity that smashing a piñata to bits entailed. So he decided to make them his own way, turning them into the trademark of his artwork. Favela started a six-month artist residency at the Juhl building in September 2016 after the building's owner saw his work in another Nevada art show.
During the early days of the presidential election, Favela gained a little notoriety after creating a piñata bust of President-elect Donald Trump.
Favela was commissioned by a restaurant run by his cousin in Las Vegas to create a piñata in Trump's likeness shortly after Trump announced his candidacy. It was made for an event where patrons would demolish it with a stick. That is, after all, how piñatas tend to work.
Even so, Favela later felt uncomfortable with the whole thing.
After the president-elect painted all Mexicans with a broad brush as rapists and criminals, Favela and his fellow Latinos got angry. But to him, that still didn't justify creating the likeness of Trump out of tissue paper and glue, only to have it pummeled to pieces by overzealous restaurant patrons.
Favela thought watching the Trump piñata get smashed would feel satisfying for him. But instead, he watched people smash the piñata to bits ... and he started to regret his art project.
He says he doesn't like that he spent all that time creating an effigy of a man who, in his opinion, is full of hate. But he also felt conflicted about the violence: By making what he refers to as the "Trumpiñata," was he encouraging Latinos to display precisely the violent behavior they were being accused of?
"I think the whole Trump piñata movement reinforced the stereotype of us being violent people, but on the other hand, it was a way for us to make a political statement," he said.
Favela's conflicted feelings sum up a lot of the current conversation about Trump, especially for minorities.
We're mad that Trump was elected, but we also want to go high when he goes low ... and that's a lot easier said than done. Favela is still trying to make sense of what he's feeling post-election, and that's OK.
Watching Trump win the presidency after hearing him say inflammatory things about minorities is a highly emotional experience.
But Favela is dealing with this anger and pain in an interesting way: He continuing to create loud, unapologetic work.
"Visibility is everything. I have always made art about my identity as a first-generation Latino in America," Favela says. Now, more than ever before, I think it is important that from now on I make art for myself and for people that look, walk, and talk like me."
Favela told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he's working on a really big piece for a group show at the Denver Art Museum that will feature 13 Latino artists. He's recreating the garden set from the 2002 movie “Frida,” about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek. The piñatas will now be about representation, not destruction.
Favela also co-hosts a twice-monthly podcast, “Latinos Who Lunch,” where he talks about art, pop culture, and identity politics.
Favela's feelings about Trump aren't black and white. But to me, they are hopeful.
There's fear, frustration, regret. There's a strong desire to keep pushing forward while also wanting to look back and wallow in defeat.
Latinos have the power to help shape this nation and Favela hopes that, as the majority minority in this country, Latinos will work together with other social justice movements. He believes that's the only way to truly take steps forward in the fight for human rights and racial equality.
"I want Latinos to know that we are going to be all right. The struggle is nothing new for us. We got this," Favela says.
In general, I think we can all learn from Favela's outlook: Sure, it's going to take a little time to let our feelings settle. We may need some time to regroup. But then, like Favela, we can use the tools we have to move forward, to fight for equality, and to bring representation to all people, everywhere.
With those tools, and with some piñatas, maybe we can even change the world.