Miami Artist Orestes De La Paz Made Soap Out of His Own Liposuctioned Fat
It's almost midnight and Miami hairstylist and performance artist Orestes De La Paz has spent the last few hours discussing human identity, preconceived notions of beauty, and the soap he made out of his own liposuctioned fat.
Courtesy of Karen Carvajal Orestes De La Paz's Making Soap, on display at the Frost Art Museum.
"I'm just your normal, typical, conceptual performance artist hairstylist. Just making a commentary on religion and identity over a blow dry," he joked, following a high kick.
Yep, Paz really puts himself into his work, as demonstrated in his latest piece, Making Soap. A combination of performance, video, and art installation, his senior art thesis is his way of bringing art and beauty together. Currently on display at the Frost Art Museum are 20 bars of Paz's fat soap and a video documenting its full creation process, from the videotaped surgical procedure, to the actual soap making, and finally, body washing. It's perhaps one of the most extreme, lengthy, and dangerous acts of performance art to be completed in Miami, requiring intense surgery, handling biohazard materials, and yes, boiling one's own fat for hours.
"I got into hair and makeup because I love the idea of manipulating someone's exterior and also being able to affect them on the inside. When I went to art school, I was doing the same thing but in reverse, bringing about ideas I have on the inside and then externalizing them, and bringing it back full circle to change people's perspective of things," Paz said.
The five-month-long project came about after Paz went in for a plastic surgery consultation for a separate procedure. The receptionist told him to ask whatever kooky questions he wanted. "Of course, you don't tell this to an artist," Paz joked.
When he found out he could videotape his own liposuction and keep the fat, he decided to turn it into an art piece. Had he not been given the go ahead by his surgeon, Dr. Michael Salzhauer, he would have abstained from the lipo all together, which goes to show that Paz literally suffers for his art. "I always have...there's always a certain amount of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into any artwork. I just make it more explicit," he said.
At the time of his consult, Paz didn't know about his doctor's notorious YouTube videos and public image. Dubbed Miami's "Dr. Schnoz," Salzhauer has garnered national media attention for his plastic surgery exploits, such as putting out a music video called "Jewcan Sam, A Nose Job Love Song," about a Jewish teenager who gets rhinoplasty to impress a crush.
But Paz wasn't bothered by Salzhauer's unorthodox promotions. "Aside from his impeccable record, I love the way he approaches surgery with the same humor and passion that I approach my art making. If this guy is willing to make Justin Bieber parodies, then I can most definitely come to him with this," Paz said.
At first, Paz was going to use the fat in some kind of acrylic memoir, but Salzhauer told him in order to keep it, he'd have to convert it into something else. Using concepts he learned in extensive college biology classes, Paz recalled how soap was made out of fat. His experiences in the world of beauty, and with his own body image and weight struggles, also informed the piece. "In cultural history, fat has been seen through different lenses, but from my own personal experience being a gay man in South Florida, it seems only natural to choose plastic surgery to change yourself to fit an ideal that has been promoted in the gay community for a very long time," he explained.
"There's something about converting the notions about how we approach fat that can sometimes be seen as dirty or repulsive ... Being able to convert it into something that is cleansing and also potentially healing reflects off of the phrase 'Cleanliness is next to godliness.' Cleaning the outside with stuff from the inside. Converting something that was dirty and putting it into something that was clean, and then putting that thing that I saw as dirty onto my body and reclaiming what I was ashamed of before, " Paz said.