Didem Doğan

Doris Salcedo, Palimpsesto: a silent mourning for refugees

A line of people in front of the Crystal Palace inside the Retiro Park in Madrid, they are waiting to see an installation signed by the Colombian contemporary artist Doris Salcedo ‘Palimpsesto’. As we are approaching the entrance we see people inside the Palace looking down on the ground and wonder what we are going to see, we put the shoe covers and go inside. A floor that look like sand, a yellowish colour with sand particles that have become harder to make a platform, letters that are made of ice particles or water, slowly we start walking avoiding to step on the letters, we bend down and read the words. They are the names of more than two hundred refugees that have died traversing the Gibraltar or the Mediterranean sea, the refugees’ names who were trying to cross the sea to find a better, a more dignified life in developed countries. The letters made by waters appear and disappear. In fact, a sophisticated technique has been used to make it; more than thirty people worked in three months, including engineers, to build a ten kilometre labyrinth of pipes under the ground. The work behind the installation is even longer; for almost five years Salceda and her team worked on this project, visited the cemeteries in Greece and Italy, collaborated with NGOs, to find and register these names of the refugees, most of whom were without papers and did not even have a death certificate. In Salcedo’s own words: “… of course these people who have not been mourned, these lives that have not been mourned never had dignity during life, because the lives that were celebrated during their full existence are celebrated even more at the time of death; so, he who has lived a social death lives an anonymous death. Therefore, this is a work that tries to mourn those who no one mourns, for whom no one cries. So the Crystal Palace is marked as a place of memory, in which it would be wonderful if people generously came to do that act of mourning, that mourning action that we so desperately need to recognise that we are all equal, that we are all human.” Actually her work is a continuation of previous works. The great Colombian artist have previously installed a 1500 chairs installation between two buildings in Istanbul Biennial in 2003. More recently she realised another installation in her own country; in Bogota’s Bolivar Square a seven meters cloth was installed by the help of hundreds of citizens, with the names of people on it, nearly eight million people who died or disappeared in Colombia’s war.