"Bowl of Tears"
El Salvador Martyrs Memorial
November 16,1989 six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter, were killed at the Central America University in San Salvador, El Salvador.
El Salvador is a tiny country, smaller than Massachusetts. "Seventy-five thousand people were killed during the 12-year-civil (1980-1992) war in El Salvador between the U.S.-backed government and the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN. Many of those killed were murdered by "death squads," clandestine outfits sponsored by the government and other interests to assassinate enemies and critics of the government. "*
In 1997 I was approached by Seattle University to design a permanent and visible memorial for these martyrs.
Description of Piece
The piece consists of a seven foot square column that is slightly wider at the bottom than the top. There are 15 randomly sized and placed alcoves around the column that hold ceramic tiles. The alcoves are recessed 2 1/2 to 3 inches. The column is stained an ochre color. There is a large bronze bowl that sits on top of the column. The lip of the bowl extends beyond the edge of the column. A bed of black stones surrounds the base of the column. The sizes of these stones vary from large stones, approximately fist size, around the outside rounded curb to 1 inch stones next to the column. The names of the six priests and two women who were martyred on November 16, 1989 appear on bronze plaques that are mounted to the curb. There are bronze roses between each name.
Description of Tiles
Column Side 1
Priest martyr tile
Two women martyrs tile
(the representations of the six priests and two women who were martyred are marked across with an x - signifying a negation, a violence)
Column Side 2
5 Priest martyr tiles - (also marked with x)
Column Side 3
Spiral tile (wind - spirit)
Romero tile - also a martyr, his words "every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us."
Handshake tile (equality - who is helping whom?).
Seeds plantings tile - plants growing.
Column Side 4
Stem with thorns tile
Represents the place of stability, safety of the university. Indeed, the women, Elba Ramos, and her daughter had spent the night at the university because it seemed a quieter place than their own house which "backed onto a street where the sounds of fighting and bombs kept them awake at night..." **
The University of Central America (UCA) was a place of study but was also involved in the improvement of society. The entire community there shared "the commitment to solving the unacceptable problem of injustice in El Salvador ..." *** Many of the priests -Ellacuria, Martin-Baro, Montes, as well as Jon Sobrino (who was out of the country at the time of the murders) had written papers and books, given interviews with foreign journalists, made television appearances. It was this confrontation of the injustice of the society that moved the university from being a place of safety and study to being part of the conflict.
The bowl, for me, is a symbol for many things: offering, hope, community, and sorrow. When I read Teresa Whifield's account of the UCA massacre in her book, Paying the Price, I wept. This was/is an immense sorrow. The bowl is a symbol of sorrow, of holding, of bearing. A bowl of tears. As it rains the bowl will fill with water. I sometimes think of rain as God's tears. When the bowl is full of rain, the water will flow over the lip of the bowl, down the side of the bowl and then down the column. Eventually the water may stain the column, leaving a trail of tears.
The gradation of large to small rocks symbolizes the many other Salvadorans who were killed during El Salvador's 12 year civil war.
Obdulio Ramos was the husband of Elba Ramos and the father of Celina. In early 1990 Obdulio planted a circle of six red rose bushes surrounding two yellow rose bushes in memory of the martyrs. ****
* Houston Chronicle, Crying for Justice
** Whitfield, Teresa. Paying the Price, Temple University Press, 1994. Page 4.
*** Whitfield, Teresa. Paying the Price, Temple University Press, 1994. Page 3.
**** Whitfield, Teresa. Paying the Price, Temple University Press, 1994. Page 397.
Public art is an art form all its own. It is the art of collaboration and communication. Although I came up with the original design, there are many people without whom this piece would not have happened. Chief among these people is Stan Richardson who was my collaborator on this piece. He gave his time, energy, ideas, expertise in many areas, and support. Other people who lent their craft to this piece: Janet Still, Raymond Serrano, Charlie Bigger, Dave and Cameron of Stoneworks, Kevin of Fraser Bronze, Superior Sole Welding, Don, and Ben of Seattle University, Roger of Artech, Ness Cranes. And others who orchestrated this on the Seattle University side: Jerry Cobb, Steve DeBruhl, Lee Miley, the donors. My thanks to everyone involved in this endeavor.
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