Berman Museum

Justin Favela: The Valley of Oaxaca

In the Berman Museum’s Baldeck/Hollis Gallery, Justin Favela has chosen to render José María Velasco’s The Valley of Oaxaca (1888) by combining his signature piñata paper technique with one of the most prominent forms of Mexican visual culture: the
mural. Velasco’s canvas, which is part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, originally represented Mexico in the 1893 Chicago-hosted World’s Columbian Exposition. The development of a national landscape painting genre allowed Mexican artists to showcase to the world the Romantic qualities of these picturesque images, which flaunt a seemingly innocent charm, creating a superficial diversion and veiling their political functions of nation-building.

However, The Valley of Oaxaca represented more than just a mere opportunity to practice this newly established genre of painting; it was a teaching tool, of sorts, to expose viewers to ancient ruins, local flora and grandiose vistas of the growing town of Oaxaca, as well as a panorama that incited a sentiment of patriotism in a newly independent society. Favela embraces the Romantic qualities of Velasco’s art by offering us a site-specific installation that awes the viewer with its sublime grandeur, similarly to the way audiences must have been in wonder over 125 years ago in
Chicago. He begins by sketching an outline of the painting onto the wall. He then assigns a color to each area of the drawing, working with a range of approximately 26 different colors of tissue paper. Favela, with the help of numerous volunteers, proceeds to cut thousands of paper strips, which he then glues over the sketch. Over a period of several weeks, the outline slowly begins to disappear as each layer of paper is applied. The result is a multicolored mural that oscillates between a fragile paper mosaic and a bold abstract painting.

- Emmanuel Ortega, Curator