Justin Favela a LatinX Artist turns the Des Moines Art Center into an enormous Piñata

Photo by Tar Macias / Hola Iowa

Justin Favela, a LatinX artist who created the exhibition, Central American at the Des Moines Arts Center wrapped their main gallery from top to bottom in the colorful texture of a piñata. Not only did Favela wrap the whole room, he also brought a giant slice of pizza to life and it hangs from the ceiling like a piñata. 

“When I was first thinking about this exhibition, farm workers are essential workers and I wanted to honor them. I was thinking about them full time for the show so here you have this agriculture landscape. It gets more abstract and kicks into the harvest and the center of the gallery; which is what Iowa is known about, which is the corn and all the photos that come from here and all the livestock.” said Favela, the artist. 

Favela is known for his murals, sculptures of lowriders, creating huge replicas of  foods, desert landscapes, and all created in the style of gigantic piñatas


Favela’s mother is from Guatemala and his father is Mexican, bringing him into two different worlds. In a lot of his exhibits, he explores both cultures and in this particular exhibition he highlighted the connections to Iowa.

“When they walk into the building because it’s so much, like how long did they do it, how long did it take you, how much paper did you use, that’s usually the questions I usually get.  Love seeing people’s reactions. Also love during the opening a lot of the people who helped out are here and I can see that they’re proud of the work that they also did.” said Favela. 

“I think, the love to experience joy in one’s work and a lot of times Latinx artists, in the United States, you’re expected to make art about trauma.” said Favela. However, the piñatas are meant to invoke memories of being a child.  


Favela tears down the walls to bring the world of a piñata into Des Moines, IA; everytime community members walk past the art, the paper mâché moves with the people as they create wind when they walk by, calling their attention.

As Favela grew up in the United States, he explored how the mixture of cultures impacted many aspects of his life including his name.  

Favela remembers asking his mother why he was named Justin, an American name she couldn’t pronounce. “She responded,“ I don’t know Mijo, your tía said it was the most popular name the year you were born and so I gave it to you.”


Many people in the Latinx community can relate when it comes down to having a mixture of identities. 

“I felt Guatemalteco my whole life, but in school I was like just another Mexican kid because that’s the default Latino in the southwest. When I went to high school and college I took on this “Okay I guess I am just going to be Mexican.’” said Favela.

“I came here from the 80s and 70s and of course we had to work hard, but I also have been very privileged. I’ve also grown up in the United States, and I went to art school. The art world is my world now and so I am kinda this in-between artist. I am kinda expressing my own personal identity through my own artwork. I want to tell my family’s story and I want to also celebrate Latinx communities throughout the United States,” said Favela. 


Through his exhibit Favela explores his identities as well as how Iowa has influenced his work since arriving. For example, he was very inspired by the invention of the taco pizza so popular in Iowa.

The pizza piñata took thirty volunteers, and weeks to create “This pizza was so fun to make and turned out even better than I expected.” said Favela

The colorful exhibit took many hours to create and is based on the works found throughout the Art Center. He takes pride in being Latinx and bringing his work to Iowa because Latinx people aren’t often thought of for art  

“The value that many Latinos have is that at the end of the day if your body doesn’t hurt, did you even work? You need to be a hard worker to be seen as a valuable person, but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t have to break my back to have value,” said Favela.

Photo by Tar Macias / Hola Iowa

He continues “This show encompasses a lot of topics that I don’t explicitly tell viewers about. The concern is that I made this show for me and that comes to making a successful artwork when you’re making the work so personal that it becomes universal.”

Favela aims to encourage youth in Iowa who want to become artists. 


“To the Brown and Black kids of Iowa I would say that a lot of times when we walk through museums we don’t really see ourselves, and so I hope when people see this exhibition, kids can see themselves being represented in an institution like this. If I was a kid and I saw a taco pizza piñata and an exhibition made of material that I related to; it would’ve given me the imagination even as a young kid to know that I could someday be an artist that shows in an institution like this that values my work and life.” said Favela. 


Favela has not only impacted the community with his work, but also many of the people in the Art Center because in every environment he works, he makes his work fun with laughs, smiles, and even excitement because he values the help. It takes a lot of work to create exhibitions and Favela had a lot of volunteers he wanted to keep happy and energized. Not a lot of artists set that tone. 

The Central American exhibit is in the Main Gallery at the Des Moines Art Center located at 4700 Grand Ave and is open to the public through October 24, 2021. Favela will be also doing a live virtual lecture talking more in detail about his work. Registration is free, and will take place August 19th, 2021 visit the website desmoinesartcenter.org for more information. 

Following right after Favela Family Fiesta will be launching on August 21, 2021. There will be games, music, and more! To learn more about the Favela Family Fiesta visit their website desmoinesartcenter.org

To follow Favela’s story, he is on Instagram @FavyFav and to learn more about his past work visit his website JustinFavela.com

Don’t miss the art exhibition Justin Favela:Central American at the Des Moines Art Center

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