Chilean author Marjorie Agosín on the difficulty of coping with recent history in South America (1992)

Will it be possible to rationalize the existence of military groups, who, in their search for national security, claimed the streets at night, kidnapping from their homes all of those who seemed to be young subversives because they wore jeans and read Karl Marx? How can we reconcile the ideology of those who believe in arbitrary arrests followed by the most atrocious of acts: torture? Maybe the memory of those who survived, of the parents and the children who lived through the torture sessions, will one day be able to recount and help us imagine, if one for a second, what transpired in those detention centers. This is the legacy of the generation of disenchantment and the generation of the invisible: horror.1

1 Marjorie Agosín, "The Generation of Disenchantment," Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 1 (Feb 1992): 136.

Isabel Allende on the woven expressions of a silenced population in Chile

Sometimes…even the oral tradition is threatened because a people is deprived of its voice. This was the case in Chile between 1973 and 1989, during the long dictatorship of General Pinochet…Censorship, curfew, prison, torture, and desaparacidos—people taken by the police and never seen again—became a way of life for many Chileans. In these hard circumstances, a unique form of protest was born: the arpilleras, small pieces of cloth sewn together, like primitive quilts. Each one of these modest tapestries narrated something about the misery and oppression that the women endured during that time. With leftovers of fabric and simple stitches, the women embroidered what could not be told in words, and thus the arpilleras became powerful forms of political resistance. 1

1 Isabel Allende, "Foreword," in Marjorie Agosín, Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love: The Arpillera Movement in Chile, 1974-1994, trans. Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), pp. xi-xii.

Doris Salcedo on the difficulty of coping with recent history in Colombia (2000)

To begin a piece, there is first of all a testimony. Then comes the material object that has traces of everyday life…My task as an artist is to make sense out of brutal facts. My work is an attempt to make violent reality intelligible. Needless to say, a lifetime is not enough for such a task. In the third world we are well aware that human beings do not triumph over external reality. We must produce meaning out of the tensions and chaos generated by our harsh conditions. Making art is a way of understanding, a way of comprehending reality. 1

1 Doris Salcedo, Lecture at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 16 December 2002.

Doris Salcedo on Atrabiliarios

Art does not create a direct and true communication as language does, but nevertheless it awakens outside the boundaries of time an ephemeral community. This piece Atrabiliarios is an attempt to form that ephemeral community, the community of the disappeared ones, by making public the silence and private pain of each family. Through art I am trying to take this problem into the realm of the public, transforming an individual tragedy into a social phenomenon.1

1 Doris Salcedo, Lecture at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 16 December 2002.

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Doris Salcedo (b. 1958) - Atrabiliarios (1992-93) Doris Salcedo (b. 1958) - Atrabiliarios (1992-93) Sheetrock, wood, shoes, animal fiber and surgical thread niches with animal fiber boxes sewn with surgical thread. The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.

These shoes belonged to people who have disappeared amid the political violence in Salcedo's native Colombia. Enclosed in niches comparable in form to the empty boxes on the floor, they bear witness to both the existence and the absence of these victims. The rough surgical stitches throughout the work suggest the unhealed wounds caused by the disappearances. By focusing on the stories of individuals in an effort to cope with incomprehensible political violence, Salcedo continues an almost invisible South American tradition of giving voice to the silenced.

Doris Salcedo on portraiture and power

All of my work is based on individual cases that are of little interest to historians and to the Colombian system of justice. In order to make a piece I try to find the individuals who have endured violence and extreme experiences. I look for individuals as faces, as real presence, but in most cases unfortunately I encounter just the impossibility of finding the person, because the person is gone and all that is left is a trace and all that is felt is his silence. All that remains, remains beyond my possibilities, beyond my reach. There is nothing, or very little I can grasp of that life that is gone long ago. This is what my work is about: impotence, a sum of impotences, not being able to solve anything, or to fix a problem, not knowing, not seeing, not being able to grasp a presence. For me, art is a lack of power.1

1 Doris Salcedo, Lecture at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 16 December 2002.