Last fall I had the privilege of spending a couple of months in Puebla, Mexico, at Arquetopia, an artist residency program in the center of the city’s historical district. I spent most of my time doing research in local museums, churches, restaurants and food stands. My time there really moved me; witnessing the traditions of Day of Dead, visiting towns where artists truly master their millenarian and colonial crafts, and having religious experiences not only in churches but on street corners while eating the best food I have ever tasted. Puebla made me think of my art practice in a new way. In Mexico I had a different audience, and I wanted to make work that would make sense in my “motherland” while keeping my voice as a Latino American.
The following blog post by art historian and Arquetopia board member Emmanuel Ortega Rodriguez critically engages my work in a more historical context. This is the second of two posts examining the work I made in central Mexico. – Justin Favela
One of the main purposes of Favela’s trip was to experience the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in the state of Puebla. In Mexico, unlike the United States, the celebrations for day of the dead are not a homogenized ritual. The traditions and the altar aesthetics change from region to region. In the town of Huaquechula, for example, altars have been developing for over three thousand years. They are predominantly white and are structured as seven-layered pyramids to reflect the different stages a soul experiences during its transition to heaven. The use of clear light and white fabric is meant to reflect the sky and its clouds. The use of estipite columns, along with 19th century graphics of bodiless putti demonstrate that what you see today is a combination of many centuries of evolution.
Entirely made of paper, the altar that Favela built for his grandfather reflects part of these local traditions. While Justin was not planning on making an altar during his residency, Huaquechula’s traditions inspired him to make this paper monument for Rito Favela Nevarez who died in 2005. He included different layers and packed them with an assortment of objects that reflect his abuelo’s life. “My grandfather loved the rain, being a cowboy, gambling, playing dominoes and eating tacos de chicharron.”
One of the inscriptions on the monument to Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, 1987, reads as follows: “Alive synthesis of two cultures, humanist, polygraph and father of the indians.” Palafox was the Bishop of Puebla (1640-1655) and for a short time New Spain’s Viceroy. His treaty, Virtudes del Indio (1650), sought to demonstrate the innate goodness of indians, and consequently, their capacity to convert into Catholicism. The fountain here pictured erects a simplistic double consciousness where local mestizo (people of mixed indigenous and European background) identity is placed within the colonial power of Palafox. Favela highlights the pain and violence of the long struggle for spiritual conquest by deconstructing a piñata and placing a bleeding pico (spike) on the indigenous side of the monument. This urban interruption unbalances a perception of local identity by underlying historical realities.
Emmanuel Ortega is a Curator and a Doctoral Candidate in Ibero-America colonial art history from the University of New Mexico. He also is an Adjunct Instructor at the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Since 2007 he has investigated images of violence in the Novohispanic context. For his master’s thesis Ortega investigated images involving autos-de-fe organized by the Novohispanic inquisition. For his Ph.D. dissertation Ortega researches visual representations of the New Mexico Pueblo peoples in Novohispanic Franciscan martyr paintings. He has contributed several entries for the Khan Academy website, the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies online bulletin, and OxfordDictionary of Art online. He has presented his work in the XXXVI Annual Colloquium of Art History organized by the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, 2012, the College of Art Association and American Studies Association in 2015.
Ortega’s master thesis findings will be published by the Department of History of the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM) in the fall of 2017 as part of an anthology on the history of Otzolotepec, Toluca. In 2015, Ortega partnered with the Museo de Arte Religioso Ex-Convento de Santa Mónica in Puebla México to curate two art exhibitions based on recently restored paintings from their permanent collection. His essay titled “Hagiographical Misery and the Liminal Witness: Novohispanic Franciscan Martyr Portraits and the Politics of Imperial Expansion” will be published by Brill Publishers in the summer of 2017 as part of a forthcoming anthology on art and violence.
Justin Favela is a Las Vegas native working in the mediums of painting, sculpture, and performance. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Arts from UNLV. He has participated in exhibitions across the United States. Las Vegas venues include the Contemporary Arts Center, Trifecta Gallery and The Clark County Government Center. His work draws from art history, popular culture and his heritage. Mr. Favela has curated many shows throughout southern Nevada, at spaces such as UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum to El Porvenir Mini-Market in North Las Vegas. When Justin is not in the studio, he is probably watching TV on the Internet. Currently: Favela’s work is currently highlighted in the group exhibition Tilting the Basin: Contemporary Art of Nevada at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno; his solo project Mi Casa es Mi Casa at the OXS Gallery in Carson City, Nevada and in Con Cariño: Artists Inspired by Lowriders, at the New Mexico Museum of Art through October 10. justinfavela.net
Favela and Ortega are collaborators on their recently launched podcast about art, popular culture and identity politics, Latinos Who Lunch.
Title image: Inside Arquetopia. Favela’s studio pictured on the first floor (bottom left).
Posted by Wendy Kveck
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