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Re/Presenting Mexico: Art By Justin Favela (Inspired By Jose Maria Velasco)


The co-hosts of the Las Vegas-based podcast,  "Latinos Who Lunch" Justin Favela and Emmanuel Ortega have a new collaboration: An art exhibition at the Berman Museum in Pennsylvania. 

The exhibition is titled, "Re/Presenting Mexico: Jose Maria Velasco and the Politics of Paper." It features Favela's pinata artand Ortega is curating the show. 

Their inspiration is the art of Mexican landscape painter Jose Maria Velasco. 

“He’s an academic painter from the 19 th Century. He is known for landscape painting," Ortega explained, "Landscape wasn’t necessarily a style in Mexico prior to Velasco and the Academy of the middle of the 19 th Century.”

Ortega explained that after Mexico's independence in 1821 there was a push to create images of the emerging nation and Velasco was the best example of that effort.

He said the goal was to offer a new view of Mexico and show that in a lot of ways the newly independent country was open for business.

However, Ortega said Velasco also painted a view of the country with an eye to Spain.

An example of that is his famous painting, "Ahuehuete De la Noche Triste," which depicts the tree where Hernan Cortes apparently cried after losing a battle to the Aztecs. 

But Ortega points out it was the only battle that Cortes and his invading army lost to the Aztecs.

“What you see in the painting is you see a small indigenous person in complete awe of the nature of this gigantic ahuehuete, this gigantic tree, but the reality is he is also buying into all this political propaganda that promotes Spanish heritage as opposed to Aztec heritage.”


Ahuehuete De la Noche Triste by Jose Maria Velasco/1885 


Justin Favela. Ahuehuete De la Noche Triste, after Jose Maria Velasco/Courtesy: Justin Favela

Above: Popocatépetl e Iztaccihuatl by Jose Maria Velasco/Below: Justin Favela, Velasco Unsettled, after Jose Maria Velasco/Courtesy: Justin Favela

Favela was first introduced to Velasco through a class at UNLV taught by his friend Ortega.

“I saw this work and I was like ‘wow! How beautiful. How romantic. How fluffy,” he explained.

He was interested in the idea of the paintings as advertising for Mexico and as a tool for colonialism.

“So, re-interpreting these paintings in piñata form I thought would be really interesting,” he said.

To make his pinata paintings, Favela cuts tiny pieces of tissue paper and pinata style layers them to create a 3-D like image that he says "reads like a pixelated landscape."

“I started thinking about the piñata differently," he said, "This is what this means to me. It represents my culture. It represents Las Vegas because of the ephemeral nature of the materials in a piñata. What else can I do with this?”

Ortega said it is a combination of the academic painting of Velasco and pop art to create something different.

“He takes these very academic paintings and he layers them with popular techniques,” he said.

This is the first time the two friends have worked together on a gallery project but they've been talking about the ideas behind the exhibit for two years.

Ortega said the whole effort felt like an extended episode of their podcast. 

Justin Favela, co-host of Latinos Who Lunch; Emmanuel Ortega, co-host of Latinos Who Lunch

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.