Performance Art
4:37 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Miami Artist Turns Body Fat Into Soap After Liposuction

Hear the audio version of our interview with Orestes De La Paz.

Miami artist Orestes De La Paz has an unusual piece of performance art on display at the Frost Art Museum on the campus of Florida International University.

Orestes De La Paz stands by his exhibit, Making Soap, at the Frost Art Museum.
Credit Marva Hinton

Last December, FIU grad De La Paz had liposuction surgery. His plastic surgeon removed about three liters of fat from his body.

Normally, this body fat would be considered medical waste. But De La Paz saw it as art, and with his doctor's permission, he was allowed to keep it and use it to make soap for a senior thesis.

And now his thesis is an exhibit: "Making Soap."

Early Stages

De La Paz says when he first approached the surgeon, he was only interested in otoplasty, a surgical procedure that corrects and improves the shape and position of a patient's ears.

But all that changed when a pre-surgery consultant asked him to write a list of questions for the doctor. De La Paz says she told him his questions could be as crazy or as strange as he wanted. That's when his brain went into overdrive.

"As a performance artist, I wanted to really use my life as a document of my work," said De La Paz.

When he asked his doctor if he could videotape the liposuction procedure and keep his body fat, his doctor agreed but with a caveat. He told De La Paz he'd have to turn the fat into something else or it would rot.

"My first thought was to turn it into soap," De La Paz said, an idea he got from his chemistry class, where he learned that fat mixed with sodium hydroxide makes soap.

 The Exhibit

The exhibit includes three elements: a video loop, 20 bars of soap and a bench that looks like what you'd see at a spa, including stones and white towels. The video shows some of the liposuction procedure, De La Paz making soap and then taking a shower. On opening night, visitors were able to wash their hands with the soap.

An Artist's Sacrifice 

De La Paz says he never would have had liposuction if it weren't for his project. "The hardest part was not the surgery itself, but the healing (process)," said De La Paz, who had to endure weeks of physical therapy.

The Takeaway

"We still have a very strange, skewed, distorted view in how we view our bodies," he said. "So what I was hoping to achieve was to reveal some truth about ourselves."

De La Paz admits that he was ashamed of being overweight and says the prospect of making something positive out of something most people view negatively was attractive.

"I wanted to make something that was beautiful, that felt very luscious Once you've converted something that you're ashamed of into something that you really can't take your hands off of, you've achieved something that very few can do," he said.

But it will cost you. A bar of soap from De La Paz will set you back $1,000.

"Making Soap" runs through Sunday, May 19.