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A Sculpture Made of Wishes Takes Shape in Canaday

February 22, 2024
"Wishes in the Air" in Canaday Library

In the stairwell of Canaday Library, artist Cecilia Paredes worked with a small group fastening a long ribbon of paper to strands of fishing line, the paper printed with anonymous wishes she has collected over the years:

“Equality for all.”

"To be at peace."

"To make enough money to stop worrying."

“A miracle for my bro.”

“I just want vegan cheese to taste real.”

Cecilia Paredes works on her sculpture in Canaday Library.

These fragments of people’s deepest desires for themselves and others have been printed onto translucent Japanese paper and strung together to seem, as the artist said, “eternal.” Spanning countries, languages, and ages, the work is titled “Wishes in the Air.”

The installation, floating and spiraling downward, is the latest addition to Not ~ At Home, an exhibition of multimedia works by Paredes that explore relationships between place and identity, inspired by the artist’s life in her native Peru and adopted Philadelphia. The contemporary works are shown alongside Peruvian art from Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections.

Cecilia Paredes works on the paper sculpture in Canaday Library.

“Wishes in the Air” began when Paredes and her husband went into a church in Lima, Peru, and found, below statues of saints, large urns filled to the brim with bits of paper containing prayers from the community. The priests would bless them, but ultimately dispose of them, “so we got into a negotiation and I bought the wishes,” she says.

Bearing big plastic garbage bags stuffed with the scraps of paper, “my husband and I went out of that church like thieves,” Paredes says. She began to read and transcribe the wishes, finding them confessional, intimate, moving, and sometimes humorous.

“Next to the church, there is a secondary school and many of the wishes are from very young people,” Paredes says. “That is why they are so hilarious. Like, ‘I want to marry Tom, but if it's not Tom, okay, whoever.’ She must be 14 or 15 you know?”

Paredes has since collected hundreds of wishes from places she has visited, most recently from Bryn Mawr. The wonderful thing she discovered, she says, was that “we all wish the same thing. One way or the other we wish health, happiness, the best for our children, our parents, and for the future.”

“So everywhere you find more or less the same common ground,” she says. “It tells you that it would be so easy to live in peace, right?”

Paredes came to campus in early February to give a talk in the 1912 Gallery about her work and put out a box to collect wishes. More than 75 wishes were added from the Bryn Mawr community, among them, one from housekeeping's Andreia Woods.

Woods works in Canaday and starts her shift early in the day before the gallery opens, but the small crowd with Paredes caught her attention. After seeing the art, she was inspired to drop her own wish in the box. 

The box for collecting wishes.

“I love that Bryn Mawr provides this space for people to come and be able to appreciate work like this,” special collections assistant April Chernila ’25 said as she deposited her own wish in the collection box.

Although Paredes has displayed versions of “Wishes in the Air” in the past, the installation at Bryn Mawr is unique both in its shape, formed organically to fit the space, and the addition of the new wishes.

Chernila and Olivia Gallant ’25 helped with the installation, cutting fishing line and ironing the strips of paper flat.

“I'm excited to see it all come together,” Chernila says. “I think it's going to look really fantastic.”


Cecilia Paredes: Not ~ At Home is on display in the 1912 Gallery of Canaday Library through June 2, 2024.


Special Collections