Art History, Artists, Exhibitions

Palimpsest by Doris Salcedo

Last week I saw a very beautiful art installation at the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid. This intervention, called Palimpsest is by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo.

Who is Doris Salcedo?

Doris Salcedo is a Colombian contemporary artist. She’s the eighth artist to be commissioned to produce a work for the turbine hall of the Tate Modern in London.

Doris Salcedo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Her experiences of life in Colombia have influenced her work very much. She generally uses commonplace items (wooden furniture, clothing, grass, rose petals, concrete, etc.) to compose her works.

She tried to give form to feelings and sensations such as pain, trauma, loss at the same time she creates a space for individual and collective mourning. These themes stem from her own personal life and experiences, from her own history.

Especially in her installations, she addresses the question of forgetting and memory. She treats the loss of a beloved one, showing us that while the death of someone can be mourned, their disappearance leaves an unbearable emptiness. The strength of this message in her works is easy explained by the fact that some members of her family have disappeared in politically troubled Colombia.

She often uses gallery spaces or unusual locations to create environments charged with politics and history.


According to the Cambridge dictionary palimpsest means “a very old text or document in which has been removed and covered or replaced by new writing” and “something such as a work of art that has many levels od meaning, types of style, etc. that build on each other”.

When you enter you can see written on the stone slabs floor many names written with drops of water (made through a complex hydraulic engineering system). The names appear and then disappear intermittently…

Photo credit: Natasha Moura

What we can read on the flor are the names of some men and women who have died trying to reach Europe, those who have drowned in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic over the past twenty years pursuing the dream to emigrate from their countries to get better life conditions.

Photo credit: Natasha Moura

It’s a very powerful installation, but very poetical too. That talks about loss, pain, dream, fight, and the ephemeral condition of life. I think it would be even more beautiful in a sunny day with sunlight making the letters shine.

Photo credit: Natasha Moura

This intervention is now at the Palacio de Cristal (Madrid).

Palacio de Cristal, Madrid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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