Doris Salcedo

Atrabiliarios . 1992-1997

Alexander and Bonin

Embodying memory in a way that draws the viewer into an emotional exchange with a distant other, Doris Salcedo’s work exemplifies the theme of this chapter.
The work is open to quite personal readings and in a very important way the subject is the experience of embodied memory rather than any specific story that might lie behind it. There is however an unavoidable and pervading sense of loss and mortality about most of her art that is informed by her personal history: in Colombia people sometimes just disappear. They may be held hostage by drug barons but as likely by government-backed militia in an effort to contain popular resistance. Salcedo has lost members of her own family in this way.
Art Gallery of New South Wales

In 'Atrabiliarios' Salcedo evokes absence and loss by using materials and processes that locate memory in the body. The viewer's response is, in turn, emotional, even visceral, rather than purely intellectual. Niches cut into the plaster wall contain shoes as relics or attributes of lost people, donated by the families of those who have disappeared. Shoes are particularly personal items as they carry the imprint of our body more than any other item of clothing. She then sealed the niches with a membrane of cow bladder, which she literally sutured into the plaster of the wall as if picturing the literal process of internalised bodily memory. Barely visible through the animal skin membrane, the shoes are a haunting evocation of their absent owners and inevitably recall the grizzly souvenirs of Nazi death camps.

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