“War is a shadow over the lives of Colombians”

Doris Salcedo, Colombian sculptor and visual artist, spoke to a buzzing theatre on Friday in Cartagena, interviewed by writer and editor Juan David Correa. Salcedo’s work has been exhibited all over the world, but is heavily-rooted in the politics and history of her country, and her experience as a Colombian.

 War and violence have, accordingly, been strong themes in her work: “War is a shadow over the lives of Colombians,” she said. The peace accords with the FARC were only the beginning of a process which must end in reconciliation: “Between violence and reconciliation, there is nothing: either we destroy ourselves or we reconcile – there is simply no in between.”

She spoke of the relationship between art and artist, saying an artist must represent a reality outside of themselves. “Art is not just autobiography: the artist must connect themselves to a social reality and political reality – including when that reality is traumatic.”

To convey that trauma, violence must be understood and represented without being reproduced in the art itself. Each act of mourning must be created with love – that’s how society can express its pain, said Salcedo. 

 For Salcedo’s 2016 work ‘Sumando Ausencias’, more than 10,000 volunteers came together to weave 1,900 pieces of cloth - each bearing the names of a victim of the armed conflict. 

 “I have always desired to return to a person that which a violent death robs from them - dignity - returning dignity to Colombian society, and to myself.”

 This is one of a number of her works which constitute acts of mourning – turning absence into presence by public acts remembering victims, “bringing the dead to a place exclusively for the living, making the invisible and the dead visible in public spaces – those whom violence has taken.”

In 2002, Salcedo hung chairs from the Palace of Justice in Bogota to commemorate the violence there, and in 2013, created an installation called ‘Palimpsest’, in which the names of men and women who have drowned in the Mediterranean and Atlantic during migration movements were written with drops of water on stone slabs. 

“We cannot cry for all of them, so the earth itself weeps.”

Her work has also criticized the art world itself – ‘Shibboleth’ was a huge crack, digitally imposed onto the floor of the famous Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern. This crack was, she said an attack on the exclusion of non-European cultures from modern art museums.

“Western art has been fundamental in the formation of racism: this work was a criticism of the participation of art in the construction of the racist mentality. I was able to create a scar in the centre of Europe’s art world: that is a strong symbol of resistance.”

HAY PLAYER: Listen to Doris Salcedo in conversation with Juan David Correa.