by Dilpreet BhullarDec 20, 2022
On the edge of losing yet maintaining the identity of oneself in the busyness of bustling cities and noise of urban jungle is the paradoxical reality of the cosmopolitan being. Finding the firm ground in such times was not going to be a cakewalk, yet the creative minds never leave an opportunity to give artistic expression to this quest. Articulating these tensions are the works of the Peruvian contemporary performance and installation artist, Cecilia Paredes.
The idea of the photographer as the subject of her image has been a phenomenon discussed long enough to turn its revisitation into a task of dismissal. Paredes’ work Landscapes, on a similar line of photographer-turned-subject, stands out since she is not screaming to have the startling appearance but prefers to camouflage herself within the frames of visual space. Her richly patterned self-portraits have the printed fabrics as the backdrop, and the painted face, concurrent with the colour palette of the fabric, stands at the forefront. The blurring of the two conventional binaries—centre and background—deflate the necessity to prioritise either of the two. The abstract concept running throughout her works – sculptures, photographs – indicate the importance of coexistence of the things rather than reducing them to the scale of measurement.
Talking about the presence of the body as a recurring motif in her art practice, especially performance-photographs, Paredes explicitly traces her journey to the year 2000 when she started doing performances. “I was living in Costa Rica and was (and still am) very much in love with marginal animals. I would see them in the tropical dry forests or trips through the desert north roads from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. So, I started interpreting them. But then in 2004, I moved to Philadelphia and I had to address the subject of relocation and adaptation to my new geography. And I started the Landscape series where I appear camouflaged or almost integrated to the background that surrounds me. In the process, I use make-up, body paint or any costume that I need to portray the image. I set the whole atmosphere prior to the moment of shooting and I work with my assistants. In reference to the theme, the illusion of ‘disappearing’ into the landscape that surrounds me, is, in reality, a blending, the aim is now to be 'part of the landscape'. The theme behind all is re-location after displacement and migration and how one has to adjust in order to belong. Tough it is, but it has to be done, without forgetting our origin. Then in 2018, when I already felt at home, the series started to take a new path, the ground disappeared and the character (me) is now the landscape, as in the piece called Dorsal. And now I have arrested a new series called Abandoned, where I insert myself in abandoned sites, where life used to be and now is gone. Quite a disturbing coincidence with what we are all living right now,” she explains.
While underlining the themes of relocation and assimilations with the works Landscape, Paredes offers a glimpse into her personal journey from Lima to Philadelphia. After displacement, the long road to reach home and find the sense of belonging was never claimed to be an easy ride. Interestingly, her Spanish surname, Paredes, translates to 'wall' in English — if the work on the walls, tangible in nature, merges with her ‘Paredes’ identity, then, she breaks the walls of difference to recreate the world of togetherness. She dwells on these thoughts further, “My life has been quite nomadic for most of the time. I have lived more out of Peru than in it and despite this circumstance, I still have a strong bond with the history and complex reality of Peru. I consider myself a political person and cannot detach my life or work from it. But it is Costa Rica where I have lived for 24 years, the country where I developed my artistic language. Philly is marvellous and I call it home, but whenever I have a huge project, I work in my studios in Costa Rica and Lima, you may say, I work in Spanish”.
When the body is not incidental to the visual lexicon of the work but an extension of the meaning-making exercise, it becomes an embodiment of the narrative rife in political history that a woman has to endure. As an artist, Paredes is sensitive to attending to the feminine force with her works. Expounding on this, she says, “It is indeed a very interesting topic, I draw my inspiration, force and ideas from three main sources: history, mythology and literature, especially poetry. I found all my answers there. Trying to talk about the feminine gender, and we encounter Juno, the protector of the feminine gender. Trying to address patience, and we have Penelope and Marie Curie. And about wittiness, sharp mind and transcendence, we have Mercury and Nelson Mandela. And so on.”
Besides being a photographer, her keen interest in sculptural installations has made her lay hands on a variety of materials. Given the scale of themes she deals within her practice, the task to select a material that would rightly give shape to her thoughts is a challenge. Taking impediment into her stride, Paredes mentions, “I love sculpture and installations, the material I choose is very much in accordance to what my subject is, for example, to express displacement, I have processed the wood I used to appear beat up and abandoned. Or to talk about awe and enchantment, I have used the prism of glass. And jumping from one material to the other is a challenge I love to enjoy”.
Unlike many artists who would like to see their creations as a means to satiate desire, Paredes is uninhibited to let her works resonate with the audience as she declares, “Whenever someone comes to me saying that a particular piece has made him/her remember some moment of their lives, I feel we have connected. I cherish that immensely”. For a change, with Paredes’ works, viewers see walls, not as the barriers, she ensures these are used as sites of embellishments to forge bonds.