Reading Response 4: Trace Memories

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Colombian artist Doris Salcedo centers her work on the response to loss and preserving memory. She does this best through material. Author Denise Birkhofer discusses how Salcedo’s work itself and the process of making her work helps victims of violent events and families of victims come to terms with their tragedies.

Coming from a war-torn country, Doris Salcedo has drawn on her own experiences with violence but has also branched out to include stories of people she interviews that have also been effected by violence. Much of her work includes articles of clothing. Clothing, especially worn clothing tells you much about the person who once wore it. This type of material is perhaps the most intimate because it not only was closest to the skin of the person but also says a lot about their identity and also contains memory. A person’s shoes have walked the paths their owner has walked, they have seen what that person has seen.

In the Untitled installation above, Salcedo uses clothing as a symbol of cultural tradition. The white, pristinely folded shirts not only represent the men who were killed at the banana plantation of La Honduras in 1988 but also the widows they left behind who would lay out these shirts never to be worn by their husbands.

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Aside from using clothing as a symbol for the lost, Salcedo also sees domestic items like furniture becoming a constant reminder of the person lost. In order to “silence the screaming nature of domestic objects” she fills them with cement, takes them apart, re-arranges them, and makes them un-usable.

Doris Salcedo also combines these two techniques in works where she adorns furniture with buttons, zippers, and fibers of clothing. This gives the domestic objects a personified existence that still lacks the actual presence and life of the human that is lost.

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