Outstretched Arms

Paying Tribute to a Historic Community Mural

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Justin Favela’s “Regeneración” adorns three walls and is made of tissue paper, reminiscent of piñatas.

Art. It’s cloistered away in personal collections, confined to frames and kept in stuffy institutions. Or is it?

Las Vegas artist Justin Favela’s latest installation, “Regeneración,” celebrates murals and their capacity to challenge conventional art. Inspired by the work of former UC Santa Cruz professor Eduardo Carillo, Favela’s piece weaves together history, community and representation.

“A mural is for the people,” Favela said. “A mural is usually outdoors, [and] having art where people don’t have to walk into an institution. […] It’s a true form of public art.”

“Regeneración” is an immersive exhibit occupying three walls in the Museum of Art & History’s third floor gallery, and is on display until Nov. 10. Using his signature style, Favela takes mural making to new dimensions.

“Regeneración’s” idiosyncrasy lies in its composition and history. Favela used colorful tissue, reminiscent of piñata paper, to “paint” the mural, first tracing a projected image onto the wall then layering the appropriate colors in place. 

The multicolored ruffles and unconventional texture are staples of Favela’s work. His portfolio consists of a variety of pieces in this style, from landscapes to lowriders. He’s also “planted” entire gardens made of papier-mâché. 

“It’s interesting to see just how the subject matter or who paints the mural or who does the art changes not only the meaning of the mural, but the legacy of it and how long it’s going to last,” Favela said.

Creating the piece required the help of several members of the community, hearkening back to how its inspiration required collaboration. “Birth, Death and Regeneration” was a mural painted by Eduardo Carillo in Downtown Santa Cruz in 1976. Carillo, who was one of the founders of Oakes and taught at UCSC for over 25 years, painted the mural with the help of several students.

Outside the exhibition, viewers learn about the history of Eduardo Carillo’s original mural, “Birth, Death and Regeneration,” the inspiration for Favela’s main piece.

Carillo’s mural explored the influences of European Christianity on native Mexican cultures of America. Painted on the four walls and ceiling of a hallway, the mural depicted a Christ-like figure with outstretched arms enveloping visitors that passed  through.

Just three years later, the mural was painted over, an action that undid the tremendous efforts of Carillo and his students.

“As Chicanos, as people of color, we’re not allowed to have giant monuments like white people do,” Favela said. “And, you know, murals are monuments.”

Murals by Latinx artists in cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco become centerpieces of communities and allow their members to see themselves depicted. With their large scale and public presence, murals provide needed representation to communities of color, Favela said. “Regeneración” draws on the history of murals made by and for Chinanx communities.

Visitors can hear this history while viewing the piece. A nearby speaker projects Favela’s podcast “Latinos Who Lunch,” which he co-hosts with fellow Latinx artist Emmanuel Ortega. In the excerpt, they also discuss the importance of pushing back against traditions of colonial monuments.

The final aspect of the show is a station with piñata paper and construction supplies next to a wall where guests partake in collective monument making.

“It’s not only a piñata making space, but it’s also a space for you to be able to tell a story or send a message through a piñata, which is the work that ‘Regeneración’ is doing,” Favela said. “It’s a way for people that are visiting the museum to make something there and maybe leave something there. And that small gesture is them claiming that space as theirs and having a feeling of ownership which is so important when it comes to an institution that is for the people.”