Bolívar Square, located in the heart of Bogotá, has turned white in the name of peace. Yesterday, Doris Salcedo unveiled a new, site-specific work that spreads 7,000 meters of white fabric across the public plaza that bears the names of victims lost in the country’s 52 years of civil war. Titled “Sumando Ausencias,” which translates roughly to “adding absence,” the work is the Colombian artist’s reaction to the result of a national referendum that would have ended the ongoing conflict.
As announced earlier this month, Colombians voted, by a slim margin, to reject a peace deal negotiated over four years between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Less than 38% of voters actually cast their ballots, according to the Wall Street Journal, and the result has left the country stunned and divided.
“Sumando Ausencias,” created in collaboration with the Museo de la Universidad Nacional, has brought people together in remembrance of past horrors the referendum intended to prevent in the future. Salcedo invited volunteers to inscribe, in ash, the names of over 2,000 war victims on individual pieces of rectangular fabric. Over the course of the day, they then carefully brought and placed each one on the square, where they’ve hand-stitched them together to form a massive, stark shroud.
“The names are poorly written, almost erased, because we are already forgetting these violent deaths,” Salcedo said in a release. She also described the act of sewing as “an act of reparation, of knitting our own peace.”
“Sumando Ausencias” will remain on the plaza for a short period of time, a spokesperson at White Cube told Hyperallergic. The gesture recalls Salcedo’s previous work at Bolívar Square in 2007, when, for “Acción de Duelo “(“Duel Action”), she covered the ground with nearly 24,000 lit candles. Aligned to form a neat and busy grid, the glowing dots commemorated the lives of the 11 murdered deputies of Colombia’s Valle del Cauca Department, kidnapped as hostages in 2002. This newly crafted memorial quilt now also covers the entire square, surrounding the statue of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan general who played an instrumental role in Colombia’s fight for independence. But “Sumando Ausencias” features just 7% of the victims of war, serving as a measure that forces us to visualize the much too large scope of human loss resulting from decades of violence.