Reliquaries: The perception of absence
Following seven years of hard work, it is deeply satisfying to witness how, at last, Reliquaries is culminated as a memorial space revering the victims of violence. It is not a lifeless monument, but rather, a living work of art whose platform reaches the homes of those grieving. They embrace the picture of each reliquary and transform it into a shrine, as if welcoming the loved one who had never returned and honoring them with a place in the home that is theirs alone, and will forever continue to be.
The gallery housing Reliquaries at the Antioquia Museum served its purpose – to provide a space where victims could mourn their loved ones; Reliquaries was dwelled as a sacred space
A country inhabited by mourners, in a world of people grieving because of widespread violence, Reliquaries comes to represent a tribute to all the victims of war. That may be why in the midst of the gallery’s customary silence, whispers surge from time to time. They are not disrespectful in any way, but rather, a flow of stories in the thick of anonymous and diverse viewers; conversations inspired by convergence with the remnants of a long-lived conflict. Some of the viewers feel certain empathy and begin to tell their own story, the story of their own disappeared loved ones; the story of their own deceased ones. The gallery has now also become a space for conversation, for encountering others; a space in which visitors can share their own mourning, attuned and in companionship with the other families participating in this work of art; feeling those families’ pain as though it were their own.
Any person with seemingly no ties to the conflict will also find an enabling environment that will allow them to relate with a realm of which they too are victims, even if in an indirect manner. Here, absence is perceived inside a platform filled with grief, but also with an earnest vivacity that activates consciousness and the emotional participation of an outsider who can nevertheless empathize thanks to their compassion.
Through the generous gesture and infinite trust displayed by their donation, mourners have turned their special, individual treasures into social relics so as to make absence perceptible. As Alsdair Foster stated, just as amber fossilizes the remnants of life – safeguarding irreplaceable understanding of a remote past - so love has preserved these unassuming but immeasurably cherished treasures; a memory of a past so recent it is almost present, urging us to uphold and transfer it throughout the following generations.
A picture, a piece of cloth from a garment, a toothbrush, a feather, or even the dirt their loved one lay foot on, is indicant of an existence, of a life that was obliterated, of a suffering, or what is worse, of a depravity that albeit denied, was inflicted. These relics, or treasures, despite being just dirt, feathers or dust, are a promise to never be forgotten.
Only love can dare to evoke a memory regardless of the pain it entails. The opposite of love is oblivion and indifference, hence we cannot allow ourselves to forget these people; Colombia cannot allow itself to forget. Art allows us to revere the reminiscence and embellish the pain with solemnity, as it is through beauty that we can reclaim dignity.
In a dark stage, lights expose what was hidden, what was disappeared and could not be perceived. Each reliquary has a light of its own that saturates and reveals it. As the overall view is lit up, so the desolate qualities of reality are delineated. Nevertheless, what is achieved through art is reverence – the placement of the objects, the symmetry of the casings, the interplay of lights reflected in the reliquaries as well as the respect of visitors viewing them one by one. Some visitors even bend over or sit in order to examine them in detail. The whole ritual extols the memory of those who tried to be obliterated by the violence, as well as of those who were brave enough to preserve that memory.
Hence, it is fitting to convey profound gratitude to all those who participated in this first Reliquaries exhibit:
To the Antioquia Museum and its Director, Maria del Rosario Escobar, who grasped the magnitude of the social commitment involved in this project and spared no efforts in extending the exhibit for five months, for a total of 95,000 visitors. To the Museum’s team: María Adelaida Bohórquez, Julián Zapata, Carlos Mario Jiménez, Juan Guillermo Bustamante, the wonderful assemblage crew Carlos Vélez and Jaime Montoya, who undertook the challenge of a demanding installation and the guides who accepted with diligence and commitment the task of directing visitors. In general, immense thanks to the whole of the Museum for hosting and looking after the pieces with much dedication so as to offer the mourners a dignified, sacred and beautiful place to accommodate their reliquaries.
To Ileana Diéguez who has been following my artistic progression since 2008 and whom I profoundly admire for her intellectual commitment. Her academic efforts tackle the topics of memory, violence, and grief not only from a cold, removed approach, but also through direct contact with the issues on which her work focuses.
A big thanks to Nadis Londoño - the psychological and social support she provided has been an essential part of this process. Her team of ten professionals led a three-day therapeutic accompaniment process - previous to the inauguration - in which the grieving families were offered support and which concluded with a symbolic ceremony. Each family received a photograph of the reliquary made from their donation-turned-into-art, so that they could return home with it.
Thanks to Paula Andrea Alvarado for her work, dedication and support for so many years.
Thanks to all the visitors, who play a key role in this project, and of course, endless thanks to each and every one of the mourners that so generously shared their objects, their words, their grief and their hopes.