Poetry Magazine May 2015 features Cathy Park Hong’s essay Against Witness, in which she explores the role of witness in the visual artwork of Doris Salcedo, who was inspired by the poetry of Paul Celan.
To make art representing another victim’s pain can be ethically thorny. Susan Sontag wrote, “The appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked.” Images of suffering can arouse our horror, simulating an illusive identification between us and the victim or “a fantasy of witness” before we are conveniently deposited back into our lives so that someone else’s trauma becomes our personalized catharsis.
A note following the essay eplains that it was commissioned on the occasion of Doris Salcedo, curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn and Julie Rodrigues Widholm, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It is the first retrospective of the work of sculptor Doris Salcedo. The essay is available in full online and includes numerous full color photos from the exhibit.