It’s a warm Friday afternoon in Albuquerque, and after walking across the sprawling campus of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, I find myself in a makeshift studio apartment catawampus from the center’s art gallery.
Inside sits Justin Favela, who wears a white shirt and white pants that shout work-from-home attire. But Favela, an accomplished artist who is forever on the go, is only “working” on a puzzle of hot air balloons from a round wooden table in the room’s center.
Favela is here, in a space that was once the museum gift shop, as part of Reposo. For six hours a day every Tuesday through Sunday for one month, he will rest for the entirety of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). During this time, Favela will entertain casual visits, but talking about work—which, as an accomplished and prolific artist, often includes interviews with reporters—is off-limits.
The Las Vegas-based Favela is mounting this durational performance in order to, according to press materials, challenge “capitalistic views of labor and human value, the performance of racialized and gendered labor, and [examine] what it means to be an Hispanic/Latinx/Latine artist working in the art world today.” The performance is a first for the in-demand mixed media artist who received a coveted Joan Mitchell Foundation fellowship in 2022.
But the issues he’s tackling, unpacking, and exposing—which include investigating and celebrating his Guatemalan, Mexican, and American identity while, at the same time, spoofing white art history and white culture—aren’t new for the artist. As Double Scoop previously reported, Favela, tired of feeling like a tokenized Brown artist, has promised to shun showing in any future exhibitions linked with Hispanic Heritage Month.
I’m incredibly curious to learn more—the press materials also mention that Reposo will give Favela time and space to untangle his own values about labor and self-worth—but I try my best to honor the performance’s parameters, even though my journalist brain won’t pipe down.
Instead, I sit with Favela at the small table and help him move puzzle pieces. A few friends are bringing him lunch soon, and he wants a cleared space to eat. The room is dark, with a television tuned to the My Analog Journal YouTube deejay channel. An afghan with an airbrushed tiger drapes a love seat. Nearby, a small clothes rack contains Favela’s resting-in-an-old-gift-shop garb that includes four black t-shirts and a few long-sleeve tops.
We exchange awkward conversations in the dimly lit space. At least it’s uncomfortable for me because I’m here on assignment as a full-time arts journalist—and also as a big fan of long-form performance pieces—and I don’t know how to system-erase arts reporting from my mind. Instead, I unintentionally ask him some out-of-bounds questions related to work and he politely yet swiftly declines.
Transferring the assembled puzzle pieces portraying hot-air balloons—on-brand for the fall season in Albuquerque because the city hosts one of the largest international hot-air balloon festivals every October—is laborious. The process necessitates moving each small piece, one by one, from the tablecloth to a piece of foam core. For the first 15 minutes, I’m not into it.
But then I get into a zone, space out about my deadlines, and don’t think for a moment about “the arts.” As I lose track of time, I feel my energy shift and the conversation between me and Favela becomes more natural.
I love covering the arts, but it’s a field that, as I’ve been thinking more and more of late, might be as broken, capitalistic, and opportunistic as any other monetized industry. My goal as a reporter is to always uplift and center the voices and work of artists, particularly those that are underheard, but am I just fooling myself? Am I more of a problem than a “solution”? (These are complex questions that will take years to unpack.) While Reposo doesn’t necessarily help me reach any type of epiphany, the performance’s vibe does give me a moment to pause and seriously consider how the small universe we call the arts community can do better.
After an hour or so, with the puzzle mission complete, Favela’s lunch-bearing guests arrive and I head towards the exit. Even though I haven’t reached a grand conclusion or solution about improving the arts ecosystem, I do know one thing: an hour of Reposo isn’t enough.
Justin Favela: Reposo is scheduled to continue from 10am-4pm each Tuesday through Sunday through Oct. 15, 2023, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
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Photo courtesy National Hispanic Cultural Center and Incredible Films