September 28, 2018 / 12:00 PM / in 2 months

Colombian sculptor seeks to show lasting impact of rape

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Colombian artist famous for putting a giant crack in the floor of Britain’s Tate Modern gallery unveiled her latest work on Friday, designed to highlight the lasting trauma of rape suffered by women in her country and around the world.

Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo is seen in an undated handout portrait. Courtesy of David Heald/White Cube

Doris Salcedo, a sculptor and installation artist, took a hammer to five wooden tables before painstakingly gluing them back together for her latest work, “Tabula Rasa” (blank slate), now on display in London’s White Cube gallery.

“Once you have splintered one of these wooden tables it is completely impossible to present it as though nothing happened,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

“The same (goes for) women who have gone through this terrible experience or rape or sexual slavery, they will never be whole again.”

More than 15,000 women and girls suffered sexual violence, including rape, at the hands of Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups, security forces and the guerrillas, researchers say.

Yet the extent of the crime and its devastating effects on people’s lives are not widely acknowledged, said Bogota-born Salcedo, 60.

“Society generates blind spots, corners where whatever is not convenient for the system is thrown and forgotten,” she said.

Salcedo’s 2007 work, “Shibboleth”, saw the floor of the Tate Modern’s entrance hall opened up and a cast inserted to create a giant crack, representing the experience of immigrants to the West.

The five tables that make up her latest work are scattered around the room where they are displayed to convey the isolation of those who have suffered rape.

Salcedo said she had interviewed hundreds of rape victims in Colombia in preparation for the work that, although inspired by conflict in her country, aims to address a global audience.

“There are more victims that we can imagine... (but) they are not given the space to talk about it,” she said.

One in three women and girls worldwide experiences physical or sexual violence, the United Nations estimates.

At least 200,000 people were killed in Colombia’s conflict, according to government figures.

Armed groups used sexual violence, including gang rape, to instil fear in communities as a way of imposing social and military control in an area.

A 2016 peace deal between Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guarantees non-jail sentences for crimes related to the conflict, provided those responsible fully admit their wrongdoing.

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The terms of the accord frustrated many Colombians and it was rejected in a referendum before a modified version was approved by Congress.

Salcedo said it was unlikely that victims would see justice, but their suffering should not be forgotten.

“The more we talk to them, the more we listen, the more we acknowledge this experience and the importance of it the less it will take place (in the future),” she said.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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