Río Abajó/Drifting Away
Shirts, pants, shoes float in transparent water behind shadowy reflections cast by the light. This is work by photographer Erika Diettes, a visiting artist from Bogota, Colombia. Her exhibit, Río Abajó, roughly translated to “Drifting Away,” features articles of clothing submerged in water from people who have gone missing during the Colombian Armed Conflict (1964 – 1966).
Her exhibition will be held with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16 at the Marian Center for Photographic Arts as part of SFUAD’s Artists for Positive Social Change series.
Artists for Positive Social Change project is an interdisciplinary program focused on highlighting the works of artists who are committed to using art for social justice issues. In the past, SFUAD’s A4PSC has hosted Public Enemy, Pussy Riot, and Kate Reid. The project’s goal is to help students realize they can to use their voices and art to discuss social justice issues.
“The artists I’ve worked with always have a commitment to shedding light on an issue through the arts,” says Corine Frankland, Liberal Arts Department Chairwoman and organizer of the Artists for Positive Social Change. “It truly is around growth, healing and integration.”
This is a message that strongly resonates with Diettes, who grew up in Colombia where there has been a long history of violence. “It’s not something that has happened to someone else, it’s not something I saw on the news, it’s something I grew up with and live in,” Diettes says.
“I was working on my master’s degree in socio-anthropology researching the influence of images in the grieving process,” Diettes recalls. “The image of the Colombian rivers being some of the biggest graveyards in the world kept showing up in many of the texts I was reading.”
Inspired by the idea that water could be transformed into something so sinister, Diettes travelled around the Colombian country side where the war had taken place and collected different items of clothing from people with family members who had disappeared during the conflict—usually under suspicious or questionable circumstances. Diettes photographed the clothing in her studio apartment after submerging them in clear, clean water so as not to damage each family’s precious keepsakes of their missing loved ones.
“All the objects you see in the show were given to me by a mother, a sister, a wife,” Diettes says. “They are sacred objects of commemoration, and some of these people are still waiting for that individual to come back.”
During the conflict, it was dangerous to talk about people who had disappeared. Families were unable to talk about what happened because it could jeopardize the safety of any remaining family members. Diettes’s pictures were a way for families to express their losses out loud without having to worry about further persecution.
“I’ve had many exhibitions in different countries with very different social backgrounds,” Diettes says. “Even if I come from a very specific social background, in general, my work is about humanity and grieving, it’s about loss and feeling empathy regardless of social background.”
Inspiring empathy in people despite their different backgrounds is something Diettes has devoted her life to. She thinks it’s important for art to bring awareness to issues that transcend particulars and reach collective audiences.
“I have the power to do something that will never happen in real life and to allow people to tell their stories,” says Diettes. “It never seems relevant until it’s gone, then it’s extremely relevant.”
Erika Diettes will also give an artist’s talk from 4 to 5 p.m., Sept. 17 at Tipton Hall and then sign copies of her book Memento Mori: Testament of Life.