Fabiola Cedillo, Los mundos de TITA

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2016 (here). Hardcover, 96 pages, with 70 color photographs and drawings. Includes a text by Benjamin Cedillo. In an edition of 500 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Fabiola Cedillo is a photographer and sculptor originally from Ecuador who now lives and works in Madrid. Over the past three years, Cedillo has been working on a project about her elder sister Tita, who has been diagnosed with Lennox syndrome. This condition usually develops during early childhood and is characterised by epileptic seizures of various types and delays in intellectual development, meaning that Tita will need constant attention and care from her family and will be taking medication for the rest of her life. When Cedillo turned five years old, the differences between the girls became more evident, and Cedillo started taking care of her elder sister, who will always be a child. Her photographic project stands as a loving homage to her sister, and in effect, a photographic visualisation of Tita’s life. In 2015, Cedillo won the Fondos Concursables in Plastic Arts at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage of Ecuador, a prize that allowed her to self-publish the work as a photobook titled Los mundos de TITA (in translation from Spanish it mean “the worlds of Tita”).

In a short commentary to the project, Cedillo characterizes her book as a “story halfway between documentary, essay and child adventure book.” At first glance, the book has the look and feel of a children’s book – it has a colorful glossy cardboard cover, decorated with pink crayon scribbles on a yellow surface and edged with rounded corners. The blue end papers feature adorable family images of the two daughters as kids, depicting classic sister scenes like blowing out birthday candles, riding a bicycle, reading a book, and many others.

The opening image features a toy house with a label “my dream house”, and photographs of the interior of a real house serve as an introduction to the story, its blue doors and pink line on the ceiling matching the colors of the toy house. A fragment of a rather typical girl’s bedroom comes next and captures predictable elements – the door covered with colorful stickers, toys, a framed photograph, pink bathrobes. But what follows isn’t more girly memories, but a fold out document from the hospital, stating Tita’s diagnosis with Lennox syndrome in stark black and white. Next to it is a loving portrait of Tita, as she lies on a bed quietly looking out into the world. We now know this story is headed somewhere more emotionally complicated.

The visual flow of this photobook doesn’t have an obvious linear narrative, it is rather a collection of snapshots mixing elements of Tita’s world and the world Cedillo shares with her. We see a girl in a red dress standing next to a brick wall with her back to us and a toy car siting on the ground next to the wall, seemingly out of proportion with its surroundings. In other images, two women play cards, high school students get dressed for their graduation party, and guests gather at a wedding party. These often spontaneous pictures reflect the milestones of the family’s life, mixed together with personal dreams, fears and hopes.

Close to the middle of the book, Cedillo mixes things up, interleaving abstract drawings by her sister with portraits of her. Several images were likely shot inside the house, against a green curtain, where Tita wears a multi-colored shirt and her hair is short. In the first picture, she looks straight back at the camera as she pets her cat. The next few images capture her in the same setting: Tita smiles and her facial expression changes from image to image. Most of these images are paired with Tita’s drawings, but one spread has two portraits: in one, Tita sits smiling, embracing her knees and looking to her left, while in the other, she sits crossing her legs, almost looking from behind the curtain. Tita’s eyes seem to meet in these photographs, creating a playful juxtaposition and reflecting her innocent character. Seen together, these images and their sequencing capture the range of Tita’s hyperactivity, sensitivity, and fragility.

The book has no captions to provide more context or direction, but there is a design element which appears throughout the book: a combination of black and white circles. It begins as one white circle against five black ones, but as we flip the pages, the circle balance keeps shifting to the left. The final graphic is six black circles on the left side. Does it represent the relationship between sisters? Or various worlds around them? Or some other meaningful progression? A short text by the girls’ father at the end adds a personal touch. He shares his reactions to learning about Tita’s condition, “living in a state of a shock”, and making a decision to have a second child, and more broadly, how Tita’s frailty requires the family to take care of her without rest.

While Tita’s primary modes of communication are “based on hugs and deep gazes”, Cedillo’s project explores the tensions and emotions that surround a child/sister/daughter with developmental issues. Los mundos de TITA is a very personal photobook, a photographer’s way to share the nuanced story of her sister. In many ways, the book is the work of the whole family, from Fabiola’s photographs and Tita’s drawings to her father’s personal note and her mother’s gathered family photos. While Cedillo’s sister is the protagonist of this project, she says that this “could be any of us”. By engaging the subject of people with intellectual deficits with such loving compassion and respect, she has brought light to a topic deserving of more thoughtful attention.

Collector’s POV: Fabiola Cedillo does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via her website (linked above).

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