Victor Cartagena, a San Francisco artist originally from El Salvador, is creating an installation that combines 10,000 photographs of Salvadorans with an audio recording of Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton's Poema de Amor, in honor of the disappeared and displaced of his homeland.

an altar/installation by Victor Cartagena

An altar has to include bread, liquor, flowers, water, candles, cigars, fruit, or anything the dead enjoyed or relished in real life. In my case, this altar of sorts dedicated to Roque Dalton, is honoring Roque by offering him la presencia de su gente en blanco y negro. His people were his "bread," and more than just bread, his alimento (nutrition). His people were his "liquor" but more than liquor, his embriaguez (drunkeness). His people were his "flowers," but more than "flowers," su jardin (garden). His people were his "glass of water," but more than a "glass of water," his sed (thirst). His people were his "candles," but more than a candle, su luz (light).

Homenaje a Roque Dalton is an altar/installation that brings sound and image together; Roque Dalton’s “Poem of Love” and a collection of 10,000 black and white photographs, 1 1/4 inches X 1 1/2 inches each, a customary size for photographs used in Salvadoran identification documents. This type of photo was a symbol of Salvadoran identity for generations, and was used, until recently, for all legal documents--“la Cédula de identidad” (the identity card”), the Social Security card, the National Health Insurance card, the Student I.D., the Driver’s License and a variety of other official documents.

This altar/installation is not only a visual interpretation of Roque Dalton’s “Poema de Amor,” but a homage to the poet himself and his love for his country and people, his “Salvadoran grief” and “aggravated charge of being Salvadoran. It is a homage to the 30,000 Salvadorans that were murdered under the dictatorship of Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (1931-1934), the over 75,000 Salvadorans that were killed during the armed struggle of the 80s and 90s (among which the victims of the River Sumpul and El Mozote), the disappeared, the displaced, those who barely escaped and those who “were barely able to return,” the exiled, the refugees, the undocumented, la mara and those the misnamed “hermanos lejanos,” the ones who were born in foreign lands—this altar is for all those whose image is emerging like a photograph in the semi-darkness of a photographic lab.