In search for a “PARADISE 4EVER”
By Yalda Bidshahri
I entered “PARADISE 4EVER” through a prismatic portal. For Augustine Paredes’s first solo exhibition in the United Arab Emirates, the glass doors of Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) were covered in holographic vinyl and lined with blue led strips, creating the effect of a space for celebration. Idyllic scenes were juxtaposed with somber impressions in Paredes’s works, including photography, poetry, and sculpture.
Upon arrival, visitors were first greeted by A Migrant Heart (all works 2022), which features layers of obscured imageries. Are the red-toned strokes depicting flesh or flames? Perhaps both. The multi-layered work is a photo of acrylic paint on a photographic print, blown up to cover one of the four standalone walls bearing images on each side in the middle of the room. A single A4-sized sheet of tracing paper, printed with a poem by Paredes as a double image, was pinned onto A Migrant Heart. Through the blue font, one can catch the words “when talking about a migrant heart they know nothing about it.” Conflating the sacred heart of Jesus with the generous heart of the migrant, the work served as a prologue of the personal narratives and religious symbols featured throughout the exhibition.
The multipurpose design of GPP’s space—a combination of a gallery, office, shop, and photo studio with little to no division between these sections—poses challenges for every artist and curator who organizes a show here, as the works on display often end up overwhelmed by the busy and porous surroundings. Paredes, however, treated the gallery as a stage set, using lighting, colors, props, and styling that overcame and transformed the environment into a new landscape encompassing his images and poetry. The freestanding walls in the center of the gallery were positioned around the iridescent structure of two overlapping four-point stars titled Compass, as a colorfully lit disco ball hung directly overhead from the ceiling. Both the exhibition design and the works simultaneously evoked fun and sorrow, as captured in a series of five small, framed images titled Portrait of a Poet Dancing, which depicts a figure in a rhythmic motion, wearing black trousers and a loose-fitting white blouse. The exposed skin of the subject is covered with blue acrylic, adding a sense of melancholy over the whimsical gestures in the photographs, which were shown alongside the artist’s poetry.
In one corner of the gallery hung a sheer curtain, printed with a photograph of an opulent vanity set with a multi-colored mirror. This thin veil was Portal to Paradise, leading us to the last room of the exhibition, where the walls were painted blue. Another purple disco ball was suspended from the ceiling, and among the works on the wall were mirror slabs, which subverted the viewer’s gaze as one moved through the exhibition and prompted one to critically reflect on oneself against Paredes’s representations. Here, a white angel-like silhouette, consisting of thin brushstrokes, is hunched over with wings in a work titled Blue Angel Baby, emphasizing the heavenly motifs that were present throughout the show. For I Love You So Much, the artist painted over a black and white photo of trees the words “I Love You So Much It Does Not Hurt Anymore,” which reads as an expression of salvation.
Overall, the exhibition was interweaved as a single installation, rather than a display of individual works or separate parts that were assembled. This was reinforced by the overlapping arrangement of images, words, and sculptures, which blended in with the scenography of colors, lights, and reflective surfaces. Paredes created an environment for good times, yet through his combination of personal experiences and spiritual imageries, the joy was meshed with tender and intimate moments.
Augustine Paredes’s exhibition “PARADISE 4EVER,” was on view at Gulf Photo Plus, Dubai, from November 14, 2022 to February 20, 2023.
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