Piñatas. They're synonymous with holidays and birthday parties, but the art form dates back centuries when they were originally made out of clay pots and used in religious ceremonies and holidays.

Nowadays, many people use piñatas as an expensive party decoration, but artist Roberto Benavidez wants to change that.

"The piñata has a diverse cultural history, which I feel is a reflection of myself," Benavidez tells MNN. "I am also intrigued by the idea of taking the piñata form, something seen as cheap and disposable, and moving it into the arena of fine art."

blue head animal pinata
Illuminated Piñata No. 1 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)

Benavidez first became fascinated with sculpting when he was a little boy. "I was working on a ranch with a cousin, and we were bored and he grabbed a hunk of clay soil and worked it into a cube. He told me to watch him as he pressed out the edges and shaped it into a cowboy hat. It was magic to me. I wanted to be able to do that."

When he was older, Benavidez enrolled in bronze-casting classes but quickly learned it was too expensive. He wanted to find a sculpting medium that was affordable, accessible and versatile.

"I saw a piñata online that someone made for their kid's birthday party that impressed me. It inspired me to [have] a go at one myself. I fell in love with the process. With the piñata-making technique, I had no excuse not to work every day."

gray animal pinata
Bosch Beast. No. 5 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)

For the past decade, Benavidez has pushed the boundaries of piñatas to create art worthy of being on display in a gallery — but not without receiving criticism along the way.

"Responses range from appreciation to incredulity. The incredulity lies in the idea that one would spend so much time on such meticulous detail work using such a common material."

orange animal pinata
Illuminated Piñata No.8 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)

But it's the common material of paper and paperboard that allows Benavidez to "remain true to that image while injecting a bit of fancifulness."

"I've always been attracted to sculpting living forms ... I'm drawn to unique forms and imaginative depictions of animals."

beaked animal pinata
Illuminated Piñata No. 2 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
black animal pinata
Bosch Beast No. 6 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
white animal pinata
Illuminated Piñata No. 3 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
long-necked animal pinata
Illuminated Piñata No. 6 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
animal jumping pinata
Illuminated Pinata No. 5 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
bird turning its head pinata
Illuminated Piñata No. 4 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
bird bending over pinata
Bosch Bird No. 5 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
bird eating animal pinata
Bosch Bird No. 3 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
blue bird pinata
Bosch Bird No. 6 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
back of bird pinata
Bosch Bird No. 6 (back) (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)
upside down animal pinata
Bosch Beast No. 4 (Photo: Roberto Benavidez)