Unland: The Orphan's Tunic
Wood, fabric and hair
Dimensions: 90 x 245 x 80 cm
Reference: ACF0692
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Doris Salcedo's work is an exploration of the dynamics of everyday violence in our contemporary society. After several years of working alone in her studio, in 1990 she travelled to the agricultural areas in the centre of Colombia, where she met the victims of violence. The works she did from then on are living testimonies to what has been forgotten. After her series "La casa viuda", done between 1992 and 1995, where she brought to light the frightful experience of the death squads and their night-time killings, she became interested in finding out how children had been facing up to such a tragedy. To do so she went to talk to a group of orphans in a village near the border with Panama, where the situation had been particularly distressing. Unland: The Orphan's Tunic is based on her interviews with a six-year-old girl who had seen her parents murdered. She was incapable of putting what had happened into words, her memory had blocked it out, but in an act of unconscious resistance she was wearing the white dress her mother had made for her. Unland: The Orphan's Tunic consists of two sections of tables of different proportions fitted together in such a way that the narrower one slots into the wider one. The wider table is totally covered with a piece of white silk threaded with human hair. Part of the silk material with hairs stretches onto the narrower table and ends in a border where the hairs are directly threaded into the wood. Unlike her earlier works, where the objects were metaphors for what they concealed (a life, a loss), Unland: the Orphan's Tunic has a porous surface like a skin, a living entity that in its naked exhibition both tells and hides its tragedy. It is a metaphor for the wordless girl in the white dress. The overlapping tables are her broken present, halfway between her trauma and her survival; the intermediate zone, scattered with holes and hairs, shows physical loss while also entailing recovery. Salcedo speaks of struggle, of courage and of opposition both to the murder itself and to the elimination of memory. The work becomes a sign of resistance in the face of despair. Lastly, the "unland" alluded to in the title guides the conceptual overtones of the piece from the particular to the general, from individual history to group drama. The girl lives in a forgotten and therefore denied and, in a sense, non-existent land: her land is an unland. That is where the political meaning of the work appears: Salcedo is defending the denied space as a common ground of resistance and condemnation. For her, "the political aspect of this type of construction is evident, all the more so if we think of exile, the impossibility of living in a space, which is one of the decisive aspects of our century."

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