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Diettes, Erika - VM - Grady van den Bosch

Erika Diettes: Sudarios


Memorials – Shrouds

by Grady van den Bosch

When you see the photos in the installation Sudarios by the Colombian artist Erika Diettes, you cannot avoid the reality: this is about pain and sorrow. The large canvasses are confronting, the emotions of the women inescapable. Sudarios is a moving work of art about the suffering of women who have experienced terrors or have been eyewitnesses of them. Diettes’ country of birth, Colombia, is beset with enormous, ferocious conflicts of violence and cruelties against innocent citizens, including hundreds of thousands of women.

What exactly do we see? On Erika Diettes’ website Sudarios is translated as ‘veils’ and as ‘shrouds.’ A shroud is a cloth that is used to wrap a deceased person before burial. The picture of the face and body of the deceased is impregnated in this cloth. In Sudarios it refers to the inner death of the women.

Sudarios consists of twenty digital photos, printed in black and white on silk, each measuring 228 x 134 cm. Each photo shows the face of a woman. By placing the silk canvasses at different heights the viewer is provided with an overview of all the faces. In this way, the faces blend into each other, indicating collective pain. 

As with all Diettes’ works the creative process is essential. The meeting between the artist with each female witness offers the woman a space, which the Italian author Primo Levi (a holocaust survivor) calls: the necessity to tell. When the pain is the most intense, the memory the deepest, the artist takes the picture. In this process it is not about the technical trivialities of making the photographs, but about the manner in which the ritual of making the pictures opens up psychological space.
‘The necessity to tell’ we also find in the Bible. The Bible gives people space to express themselves in their innermost suffering. Job is a well-known example of this; he has become the archetype for the suffering human. In his deepest darkness he said that he would rather not have been born (Job 3). In the third chapter of Job the author paints with his poetic pen the deepest despair of man in his extremity: “May the morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn.” (Job 3:9) In verses 24 and 25 he writes: “For sighing comes to me instead of food, my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” 

By visualising the sorrow of the women in a work of art, Erika Diettes gives voice to their suffering. We are here too! This has happened to us! It should not have been allowed to happen! The photos of Erika Diettes have been exhibited in spaces connected to processes of remembrance that have been developed by various victims’ movements in Colombia. The process of photographing and exhibiting contributes to the healing of the women.

On her website Erika Diettes quotes Aharon Appelfeld: “Only art has the power to pull suffering out of the abyss.” Also in the Bible we see a counterbalance over against suffering. It does not have the last word, not with Job either. In Psalm 40 David says,

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.

With this quote I am not saying that the deepest complaint and pain must or can be pushed aside just like that. No, certainly not. There is a time of mourning, of pain, sorrow, suffering, and being torn apart. And there is also a time of renewal, becoming whole, a different outlook and healing. The Bible considers both and accompanies us in either situation.

Sudarios is always exhibited in holy places, such as churches, temples, chapels, and cloisters. The space enhances the meaning of Diettes’ work and gives it a spiritual dimension that transforms the silent testimonies into prayer.


Erika Diettes: Sudarios, 2011, 20 black and white photos on silk, each canvas measures 228 x 134 cm. The work has been exhibited in 12 cities in 7 countries (Poland, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, the United States and Colombia), always in holy places, such as churches, temples, chapels, and cloisters.

Erika Diettes (b. 1978, Colombia) is a visual artist residing and working in Bogotá, Colombia. She predominantly works with photography in order to examine topics such as memory, pain, absence, and death. She has a Master in Anthropology from the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá), and a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Communication from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá). She has written various essays about making art in times of war. Her photographic and essayist productions have been included in various books, newspapers, and journals. Her work is part of the permanent collection of diverse major museums and has been exhibited in the Museums for Modern Art of Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Barranquilla (all four in Colombia), the National Museum of Colombia, the Museum for Modern Art in Santiago de Chile (Chile), Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (USA). 

Grady van den Bosch is Master of Education in Arts and works as an art educator, music educator and artist in her own business Studio Grady Art & Art Education. She is a committee member of the Dutch Platform Kerk & Kunst (Church & Art) and a member of the Christian art collective Arsprodeo. Grady is an editor with ArtWay. 

ArtWay Visual Meditation 25 October 2020