Doris Salcedo’s work is focused on mourning and how to facilitate mourning when unusual circumstances lead to loss. In Salcedo’s piece Atrabiliarios she focuses on the women who have been lost due to conflict in her home country Colombia. The piece is comprised of women’s shoes recessed into the walls of a gallery and covered with a membrane of cows bladder. The bladder is attached with black sutures of surgical thread, and there are more of these boxes on the floor of the gallery. The membrane takes on the appearance of human skin and creates a living aspect to the empty shoes. In Vera Mackie’s article about this piece she illuminates the associations that feminine shoes create and why we react so strongly to shoes.
Empty shoes display the outline of the feet that once wore them. The feet that would display calluses and scars from walking too far in heels, or even attempting to escape whilst wearing heels. The feminine shoes evoke images of women fighting off assailants and being unable to escape without losing a shoe in the process. The image of abandoned shoes hints to conflict, and women who were unsuccessful in winning their fight.
“There is a chain of signification which links the leather of the shoes displayed in lighted boxes, the puce cow bladder which covers the boxes, and the melancholy remembrance of the bodies of the disappeared. There is an excess in the repetition of different kinds of skin: the leather of the shoes, the cow bladder which covers the niches which hold the shoes, and an inevitable association with the skin of the feet of the person who wore the shoes”
The choice to use shoes to represent the disappeared women was less artistic and more practical. Salcedo wanted to create a piece to remember these missing women and discovered that the only common link between all of these women was the shoes they left behind with their families. The shoes all belonged to a woman who was taken unjustly, and their emptiness serves as a reminder that the place they once occupied is now empty. The piece is meant to allow people to mourn these lost women in a way that uses no names or large memorials.