Continuing through January 31, 2013
The impetus to assert one’s identity goes as far back as handprints in caves. It’s a continuous psychological motivation, brought into the current sphere by Cecilia Paredes, whose body art, performance and photography imposes a new twist on the age-old tradition of self-portraiture.
Women as muse or object was turned on its head as early as the Renaissance when women artists began to portray themselves in the act of painting. It was an attempt to assert identity and transcend stereotypes. However, it was only with the birth of the 20th century Feminist Movement that women artists began to break through identity barriers with a vengeance. In a reversal of the paint on canvas tradition, artists began using their bodies as both medium and subject. During this period, for example, artists such as Carolee Scheemann and Ana Mendieta engaged with the earth through mythic body rituals. Currently, the self-parodies of Cindy Sherman and the self-revelatory explorations of artists such as Mona Hatoum and Tracy Emin also take place in unexpected spaces and mediums.
Though Paredes’ self-portraits are more subtly evolved, she too uses her body as an instrument for personal revelations. She was born in Lima, Peru, and married to a man in the diplomatic service. As a result, she has lived in a variety of places throughout the world and exposed to a diversity of cultures. In order to express tangible reactions to her experiences, she developed a unique form of autobiographic ritual.
Paredes combines the art of body painting with performance and photography, viewing performance as integral to the work, but using photography to preserve it. Selecting elaborately designed tapestries inspired by places she has lived, she asserts herself into the patterns. Assistants ritualistically aid her, using make-up, costumes and body paint to duplicate the floral designs of the tapestries onto her body. So effectively does she blend in that in some instances she is barely noticeable. In others, however, she becomes a recognizable anchor, asserting her presence through subtle hand gestures, hair, or parts of her face.
The imposition of herself within the designs represent more than a memory of place. They are meant as poignant indicators of re-location and displacement and of her efforts to adjust to various environments. The difficulty of her process reflects the hardship of experiencing ever-shifting realities, and the conflicts that ensue between fitting in and asserting individuality. By physically imposing herself onto the tapestries, she becomes part of the landscape, evocative of her efforts to integrate, yet not lose sight of her own identity. Her body, in a sense, becomes a self-protective sacred zone.
The use of pattern and design harks back to stereotypical feminine associations. It’s a consciousness that is unavoidable, but Paredes is attracted to the colorful, often intricate designs, because they remind her of the social fabric of particular cultures. Their titles such as “Blue Garden,” “Meditative Mermaid,” or "Naturalizer Urban,” offer clues as to how the tapestries are not only associated with place but also with particular states of mind.
Not your traditional self-portraits, Paredes’ personal transformations of her body into contextualized images serve to establish a degree of intimacy with her audience. They are seductively beautiful and unique enough to create the kind of wow factor that provokes connections between artist and audience.
Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2012