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Doris Salcedo on the prevalence of silence

For the victims of violence, the world becomes strange to them, and they enclose themselves in complete-mute-silence…In art, silence is already a language—a language prior to language—of the unexpressed and the inexpressible…The silence of the victim of the violence in Colombia, my silence as an artist, and the silence of the viewer come together during the precise moment of contemplation and only in the very space where that contemplation occurs.1

1 Charles Merewether, "An Interview with Doris Salcedo" Unland: Doris Salcedo (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1999), trans. Charles Merewether and Sylvia Korwek, n.p.

Marjorie Agosín on the people of Chile and Argentina who grew up under

The next generation prefers silence, concealment, and peace. They do not admit that the respectable neighborhoods of southern Chile and Argentina were torture centers and refuge for the Nazis. Neither do they admit that there existed approximately 340 clandestine concentration camps throughout the country—mined camps containing suspicious looking students with beards, women in jeans, all of them extremely dangerous to the national security.1

1 Marjorie Agosín, "The Generation of Disenchantment," Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 1 (Feb 1992): 139.

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Doris Salcedo - Untitled Doris Salcedo - Untitled Doris Salcedo - Untitled Doris Salcedo - Untitled (2004-5) Stainless steel. Roll over images for more information. Alison and Alan Schwartz Tiqui Atencio Collection Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York

For Doris Salcedo art serves as a witness to crime, introducing the voice—or the silence—of victims into an aesthetic context. The distressed forms of these casts, alluding to chairs in which people are interrogated and tortured, embody the brutality that has become an everyday occurrence in the artist's native Colombia. As the sculptures encourage inferences about what the absent "sitters" may have endured, the act of looking at them approaches the investigation of a crime scene. However, in that they still seem like plausible places to sit, the works do not allow viewers to detach themselves from the turbulence of this past: they embed history in the present and suggest that past atrocities may continue.

Doris Salcedo on art as witness

Killing is the manifestation of absolute power…When facing absolute power, we can say that art is useless, impotent in many respects. But, even if it sounds like a contradiction, [art] has the tremendous power to bring back into the realm of humanity, the life that has been desecrated. As the philosopher Giorgio Agamben has explained: "When the subject gives account of his own ruin, life subsists, maybe in the infamy in which it existed, but it subsists." Therefore, in these pieces I do not see only the memory of oppressed existence, but the light of immemorial ethos. Beyond all biographical elements, art bears witness to life. 1

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