Critics’ Picks

VIew of “Justin Favela: Regeneración,” 2019.

VIew of “Justin Favela: Regeneración,” 2019.

Justin Favela

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
Santa Cruz
July 5–October 20

In a field of golden corn, a crucified figure tips to the left, as if he might fall; resembling Jesus, this is likely the maize god, central to Olmec, Maya, and Aztec belief systems. Butterflies surround another patriarch, perhaps Jesus on a good day: He extends his huge orange-brown arms, offering an embrace. Between these two figures, a green creature surrounded by streaks of orange and yellow hovers over a fire as she delivers a child. Such is the scene in Justin Favela’s temporary piñata-style mural, made of tissue paper glued to cardboard, installed on the walls of an upstairs gallery at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Favela’s characters are adaptations of those in the mural Birth, Death, and Regeneration, 1976, painted by the late University of California, Santa Cruz art professor Eduardo Carrillo. The mural had once enlivened a passageway from the parking lot of the county jail to a building adjacent to what is now the museum, before myopic landlords painted over it—an ironic end for a work of art thematizing the life cycle.

Favela’s new take is simultaneously celebratory and defiant, enacting a desire to both live with and liberate historical forms. As is typical of piñatas, the tissue paper is fringed and only partially attached so that big movements in the space make small pieces flutter. This sets the stage for a different scene. Imagine the Muppets showing up late to church after kicking off a pride parade: The characters feel meticulously and glamorously dressed-up; the walls are in drag. Favela’s mural suggests that the best new cultural forms don’t completely break with the past as much as they offer variation, playing on the otherwise predictable road from cradle to grave.