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Two of Doris Salcedo’s newest works, Disremembered and A Flor de Piel, were included in the thirty-year survey of at the Perez Art Museum. Disremembered consists of three tunics woven from a raw almost translucent silk along with 12,000 needles. The three long sleeved shirts are woven horizontally but the distance between the stitches narrows on the arms, around the cuff and collar creating a greater density of needles and giving the shirt more visual weight. The more concentrated the stitches the more the needle tips flare up and out from the fabric like a quivering porcupine. The shirts were installed in a small gallery in the larger exhibition. One shirt hung off a single needle inserted into the wall like it was left there at the end of the day while the others, attached to the wall at the two shoulder seams, appear to be waiting for to be used. The second larger work, A Flor de Piel, was a room-sized tapestry that rippled across the floor lapping against some walls and falling short of others. A Flor de Piel was constructed out of preserved and flattened rose petals that were sutured together to shroud the floor creating the effect of a dark leathery sea.
The victims of trauma and violence have been the major themes in Salcedo’s project based work for three decades. Her new work continues to focus on the after effects of violence, including the absence of loved ones, homelessness, disruption, and mourning. Disremembered resulted from Salcedo’s perception of society’s inability to mourn or to recognize another’s loss and A Flor de Piel is a memorial or a funerary shroud for a female victim of torture.
Pain, loss, and protest have long been source material for artists. Alfredo Jaar and Krzyztof Wodiczko, contemporaries of Salcedo, engage injustice and cruelty through works that bellow with indignation. Salcedo’s work is subtler embracing the viewer with grief rather than the cry of injury.
The body has traditionally been implied in Salcedo’s work through its absence, for example an empty chair or bureau. The absence in Disremembered is much more familiar and intimate. Rather than the manufactured domestic furniture or found object of past work Salecdo creates a handmade shirt to bring the memory of the victim to the viewer. Disremembered is a hairshirt or a cilice, pinned to the wall, waiting for the viewer/penitent to take on the mantel of grief, to feel the loss of others in a very physical way as the 12,000 headless pins prick the skin.
The recent shift in Salcedo’s work towards garments and textiles to express loss is a powerful and poetic one. There is more room in this work for real empathy as opposed to the detachment generated by the found objects of earlier works. The intimacy of the materials, thread, needles and pins, and the handmadeness of Disremembered and A Flor de Piel enhance their ability to implicate the viewer as we can envision wearing the shirt, shrouding our dead and remembering our and our communities’ loss.