Studies in existential uncertainty


What if I would have been born in Chile?

What if my parents would have migrated to Sweden or Scandinavia 100 or 1000 years ago?

What if I would have come as a refugee to Sweden today?

Who would I have been if I still lived where I was born?

What would life have been like if it wasn’t just as it is?

I want to observe realities from the perspective of fantasies, dreams and memories, to depict them as they would’ve been in contrast to a more prevalent notion of the state of things.

I was born in 1980 and grew up in the Stockholm suburb Skärholmen. Soon before that my parents had come to the country as political refugees from Chile. In my senior high school years I moved to Uppsala, something I believe broadened my horizons particularly in terms of choice of profession. My upbringing was shaped in an in-between-ness, a sense of both belonging and not belonging, which in turn affected my identity, my self image and the person I am now.

Through my art practice I explore existential uncertainty. A condition that arises when fundamental existential components are subject to uncalculated ruptures, are questioned or changed more or less drastically, more or less violently. When life is turned upside down or reality as one once knew it is altered or disputed. In my case this condition is set in motion by that my self-perception as both Swedish and Latin American settled in Sweden, is disputed through the simple question ”Where are you from?” The question premises not only that I can impossibly be from here but also that the place/nation/territory of my actual origin is singular. The relationship between my experience of being of foreign descent and my self-perception as Swedish or belonging in Sweden is also the force field which my artistic practice inhabits and problematizes. Through my artistic practice I pursue people who are in these types situations or whose existential uncertainty I can recognize or desire to understand closer. Over the first number of years I investigated my own self and my own inquiries and experiences, but lately my focus has shifted towards also including destinies of other people who share the experience of existential uncertainty.

I take interest in stories about how realities ay have been. In them I find a possible or plausible narrative rather than a singular reality. Is there such a thing as singular Truth? Does reality not, rather, consist of several realities at play simultaneously? It may reflect isolated individuals, a group of people or a place.

Through my practice I dispute the preconfigured image of Truth by observing and depicting from different perspectives simultaneously. What is granted as Truth is often colored by norms, class, gender, media, politics, religion, age, or world view. For this reason I maintain that it is necessary to backtrack and dispute this image. In my latest work, the protagonist’s target ambitions and wishful thinking demands a parallel presence in the narrative to that of the Migration agency’s. I also employed references from classical literature and contemporary drama to supply a multifaceted perspective on his situation. In Livet som lögn (2012) I edit together the differing answers on who the protagonist’s biological parents may be, as she has confronted her illegal adoptive parents with the question of exactly who they were. In Hennes Liv (2008) I portray a fictitious Chilean me by appropriating five girls from my generation born in Chile and their memories from their childhood in that country. In Det är vi (2013) I attempt to confront the array of images exoticism and racialization projects on me and which alienate me and bodies like mine in encounters with strangers in Swedish daily life.

I employ the intersubjective perspective, in which the different narratives are given room. It can be difficult or confusing to take in all the information simultaneously. Out of the parallel narratives one of the voices crystalizes. This voice emerges as the keystone, all the while being shaped by all the other stories. I maintain that it is important to tell stories that show the complexities in identities, as opposed to those narratives of simplified character that are reproduced through the discourses of media and politics.

Through my works I want to pose questions, dispute The Truth and the image of identity as a singular and unyielding entity.
I don’t want to supply any answers. Rather, I want to generate even more questions.

The resonance I strive for in my artistic practice emerges only when the stories are sustained within the mind-space of the observer, to be processed and reinterpreted.


Paula Urbano is also a member of the interdiscpilinary group Mapping the Unjust City. More info.



Right now:

-Studio Grant @ IASPIS with Mapping the Unjust city Oct 2019-Mar 2020



-In July 2019 I went to New York to partipate in CPR 2019: Navigating the (art)World, a two week residency for artists that will provide participants with a more general knowledge how to sustain life as an artist in New York and Beyond.

Thank you IASPIS for support.

During the residency I will also be a part of  The Transatlantic Meeting on Nationalism(s).

The Transatlantic Meeting on Nationalism(s) is a gathering of artists and art professionals around national belonging and nationalism combining historical and contemporary perspectives on these complex notions. By sharing work and coming together in workshops and talks, participants based in the Nordic countries and USA will bring various perspectives together and create new knowledge.

Mapping the unjust city @ Guest Room at Marabouparken Jan-April 2019.

Public Luxury, Arkdes

Soloshow at Haninge Konsthall 24/3-3/6 2018

Soloshow at ID:i Galleri May 2018


The following films are in distribution at The refugee of the Sorrowful Figure 2015, Her Life 2008, Here and There 2011, Mentiramente 2012 and It´s we 2013.