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"Unveiled" by Paola Paredes

BY Maya Simkin

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By Maya Simkin / AmLit

Paola Paredes illuminates her experience of coming out to her family in her exhibition "Unveiled" at Hillyer Art Space 

Many people remember coming out to their families, but they probably don’t have it captured on film.  After being inspired by photographers documenting their own lives as well as coming across a photography book covering lesbian sexuality, photographer Paola Paredes decided not only to come out to her Catholic Ecuadorian family, but to also document the process. The result is a series of emotional photographs to complement a recognizable and important story that is currently being exhibited at Hillyer Art Space as part of FotoWeek DC.

Aside from the message and content covered, the photographs are remarkable and tackle many other issues like reconciling intimacy and family. A wall of the space holds photographs taken of Paredes’ parents during the weeks before her coming out. According to the exhibit description, she wanted them to get used to the camera being around so that the next day the lens didn’t seem like an unnerving intrusion. One photograph captures her parents through the door in their bedroom. This particular photo signifies the boundary that exists between family members and personal lives. With the door open and Paredes looking in on her parents, this threshold is crossed as Paredes prepares to discuss personal bedroom matters. 

Another sharp contrast emerges with her Ecuadorian Catholic roots and her private sexual identity. One wall features three photographs that juxtapose these elements clearly. First is a shot of three framed photos of all three Paredes sisters as young girls on a table crowded with knick knacks. Behind the table is a heart shaped balloon reading “Hugs” and “Xoxo.”  Next to it is one of my favorite photos in the series: an old photo of Paredes’ parents as bride and groom at their wedding, resting on an image of Paredes’ stomach just above her bellybutton. The intimate placing of the picture makes Paredes seem accepting of her biological identity as well as the new identity that she is exposing to her heterosexual parents. It could also be referencing the concept of parenting and birth, with the belly button reminding audiences of pregnancy. Another interpretation could be one that connotes a modern take on Mother and Child art, which makes for a powerful statement with respect to its context. The emphasis on both family and art history are very dynamic in this piece. 

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With respect to cultural tension, the different language elements are also present. On the first wall of the exhibition there is a photo of a notebook where Paredes planned what she would say to her parents in Spanish. The contrast is made with the English notes on the last wall where Paredes planned the actual documentation process again in her notebook. The reconciling of the two cultures and worlds that Paredes is part of happens in the middle of the exhibition, where she tells her parents about her secret life, merging the two. 

 She hopes that her project, which resulted in acceptance by her parents, will inspire others to have the courage to come out as well; her commitment to this is very clear. At the gallery opening of her exhibition, many visitors got a chance to speak with Paredes and share their own stories, whether they ended happily like hers or not. Despite the intimate subject, Paredes tried to create a space where viewers could feel comfortable with the artist and her mission. Paredes even put up a visitor book in her exhibition room for viewers to write their comments and get in touch with her. In an interview with FotoRoom, she said “if “Unveiled” can help even one person come out of the closet, then I would have achieved my goal.”

“Unveiled” is an emotional roller coaster that delves into sexual and cultural identity, and captures portraits of what is a challenging exposure of one’s sense of self to family members. The photographs tell a familiar story in a unique way. They aspire to encourage others to confront these issues in their own lives, keeping their safety as a priority despite the potential repercussions. Hillyer Art Space will hold the exhibition along with two others until December 18th. 

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