Local artists and self-described best friends Justin “Favy” Favela and Mikayla Whitmore recently collaborated on Big Load, an installation inspired by their shared interest with swap-meet culture, which is on display at Southwestern Michigan College through October 6. “Mikayla has been taking pictures of swap-meet booths for years, while I just shop,” Favela says. The artists are currently busy working on solo projects, after both landed residencies in Downtown Las Vegas: Favela at The Juhl, and Whitmore at The Neon Museum.
Giant sheets of paper lie on the ground, next to a dead Big Bird-inspired piñata in a studio space off Fourth Street. Favela, the first artist-in-residence at the Downtown condominium complex, will soon transform that paper into works of papel picado (a Mexican folk-art style) for his upcoming PATRIMONIO exhibit, opening September 15 at City Hall’s Grand Gallery. The residency offers the artist a space to exhibit and create in, whether the works are destined for Juhl’s walls or an out-of-market museum.
The artist’s accessible, playful works center on his identity as a Latino in America, though he is considering expanding his artistic commentary. “Women and minorities don’t get the same opportunities, because their work always has to be autobiographical for it to matter to institutions,” he says. “That’s something that I’m thinking about: making things a little bit broader.” He’s gearing up to debut a piece at the Denver Art Museum, in a February group show titled Mi Tierra that explores the contemporary Latino experience. Favela plans to re-create a scene from the 2002 Salma Hayek movie Frida made entirely out of paper, as a statement on the commodified image of the movie’s subject, surrealist painter Frida Kahlo.
While Favela is taking on projects alone, photographer Whitmore is asking the public to participate in This Time Around at The Neon Museum. “I’m looking forward to working with the community and letting go of some of the control,” Whitmore says.
Whitmore’s residency begins September 17 with a community art project, in which participants will fashion miniature replicas of neon signs from basic craft materials and “a ton of glitter.” Selected works will then come together to create a “surreal Strip” diorama that Whitmore will photograph and later display at UNLV’s Barrick Museum (Sept. 20- Oct. 7). The idea sprung from Whitmore’s fascination with memory, which is inspired by the Las Vegas native’s observation of the city’s perpetual rebuilding. She mentions the changes MGM went through from its original Wizard of Oz theme to the hotel’s former lion-mouth entrance. “You start to doubt yourself,” she says. “There are only a few [original] places left.”