Newsletter Issue:
Spring 2024

Concealment and unconcealment in artist Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza’s work Carmen (prologue)

Still from the video Carmen (prologue) 2022. Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza

by Dr. Ana Fernández Miranda Texidor, PhD 2023

In the piece Carmen (prologue) viewed at Espacio Arte Actual, Quito Ecuador under the exhibition From One Gaze, Another, French-Ecuadorian artist Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza veils and then reveals a truth. What is veiled to us at first is a face, the image of a person portrayed in a family album. What is revealed consequently by a play of placing the hand over the image, perhaps in Heidggerian terms, is aletheia, the truth that is unconcealed to us. This veiling and unveiling, the clearing in the forest, is what the artist aims to piece together in this work.

She imagined a path for this woman, her aunt Myriam, who disappeared at age twenty-five four decades ago, leaving behind her husband and two young children. In the tumultuous decade of the 1980s in Quito, Ecuador, she undertook a voyage, apparently to continue her studies in Rome. However, she never arrived. Rather, she traveled to a rural region on Ecuador’s coast to join a leftist militant group, and Myriam took a battle name: Carmen. She was pursued and harshly punished by the government of Ecuador for participating in the militant group. After months of looking for her, her family learned she was murdered, along with another comrade. The event was never cleared up, and the mourning and grief it caused are apparent in the artist’s work.

In 2022, Peñafiel Loaiza, who lives in Paris, decided to take herself on a voyage to Rome to pursue her aunt Myriam's path. She imagined what her aunt's journey would have been had she not joined the militant group. Peñafiel Loaiza found activism but no trace of her aunt. The ghost that appears from the light traces Carmen left behind is explored and contrived in this poignant piece. Only questions remain, only sadness for a story not understood, only imagination filling the voids. This personal history becomes political, for it connects the stories of many young people who joined a guerrilla moment they heartily believed in, and, as a result, were incarcerated or murdered. Moreover, the personal becomes cosmopolitical, as Isabel Stengers names it, the unimaginable and intricate paths of the human colliding with the world.

In Peñafiel Loaiza’s piece, the ghost image of a woman who disappeared comes to life again, illuminated by the hand that is supposed to conceal her. She is given birth, alumbrada, by a game of concealment and unconcealment. In the case of a woman who has disappeared in real life, the poetics of unconcealing her by placing a hand that also conceals her is quite powerful, for they reveal grief and beauty in a game of hidden connotations. The artistic device in use is a lightbox type of monitor where the video of the concealment of the photograph and the woman’s face, is played. The artist's hand, which is meant to pick up the photo, blocks the light and thus reveals the traces of the woman. Thus, one by one, images of the same woman and her family appear and disappear. As a text, if we use Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a book (or work of art) as an endless tracing, this work also seems related to works such as The Silence of Nduwayezu by Alfredo Jaar, which shows an image that repeats itself on top of a light table, revealing the gaze of a person marked by grief, perhaps being thrown into the nothing, the “being-there” of Heidegger's parlance.

The story, nevertheless, is not finished. The truth was never really unconcealed. Peñafiel Loaiza’s research is ongoing as it keeps revealing a circumventing pathway that mimics the poiesis of history and the many nuances a life story can bring. As Santiago Zabala writes, “only art can save us;” in this case, art is the balm that promises to lend a way for the artist to evoke and fabulate her aunt’s own history among the many stories of political disappearances within the painful and intricate Ecuadorian and Latin American history.  



Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translation and foreword by Brian Massumi. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1987

Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrell Krell. Harper San Francisco, 1993

Jaar, Alfredo. The Silence of Nduwayezu. The Rwanda Project 1997

Zabala, Santiago. Why Only Art Can Save Us. Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency. Columbia University Press. New York, 2017

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.