This is the gas tank. Two batteries. The Woody Woodpecker Show. You should see it if you haven’t. And La Centro America is like the whole region.Come up, I’ll help you.

I’m Ernesto Salmerón from Nicaragua. I was trained as a filmmaker and photographer. I’m here in Tate Modern because ‘Auras of War’ is on display.

It’s very strange for me to switch from photography to a whole social sculpture. I never thought about it. I was just obsessed.

I was interested in understanding my own society. The whole thing started with a photograph, a black and white photograph of graffiti, with a defaced image of Augusto Calderón Sandino. He was an icon for a new revolutionary movement in the 1970s.

There’s no one way to understand Nicaraguan history. There is no one way to understand Sandino.

Something you can agree with everyone is that we want to rule ourselves. And Sandino is a symbol of someone who resisted.

A photo is just a trace. I needed something else, something more meaningful.

The extraction process of the wall is a jump-cut. Taking Sandino away from the context became this huge heavy, difficult to manage object.

There are writings here. Here is a name: Mario. The fact that he didn’t have a face, it inspired me to go deeper into the identity of the Nicaraguan people.

This is not a research that I do reading books, only. This is research that I need to confront. It was meaningful for me to make a road trip.

I wanted to go deeper into who Sandino was to the Nicaraguan people.

Having a direct contact with all the people that were talking to us, and many people were curious and interested. What are you doing with this truck? Is this still going on? What is this wall? Why are you travelling with Sandino? Just quoting this image triggers many memories for many people.

You have family, you have friends who died with this idea.

I decided to use the truck. It’s a caravan, like a political caravan. A testimony of conflict. It came from Germany to Nicaragua as part of the solidarity process with the Sandinista revolution.

When I was a child this was a dream, you wanted to go inside of this truck because it was huge. It was beautiful and it was strange. This kind of toy that you want to play with but it’s a dangerous toy.

This was used to transport soldiers to the fire front.

And maybe if you came in the truck you would never come back.

For me this research wouldn’t be real if you don’t have both sides. If I wanted to explain this conflict I needed two war veterans. The art project brought them together as friends. Now they were working together. It’s like a mirror, it’s like a social mirror.

All my life as an artist I was making work that I never realised was art. For me it was just research on history. Understanding my own society. I am not giving the answers. I am just asking.

I was interested in understanding my own society. There’s no one way to understand Nicaraguan history.

Ernesto Salmerón

Ernesto Salmeron, ‘Auras of War’ 1996–2006
Ernesto Salmeron
Auras of War 1996–2006
Tate
© Ernesto Salmeron

Ernesto Salmerón trained as a filmmaker and documentary photographer before turning to other forms of art including social sculpture.

Auras of War documents and explores the Nicaraguan revolution. The work is made up of a truck, a section of concrete wall, video and other materials.

‘The whole thing started with a photograph of graffiti with an image of Augusto Calderón Sandino’, explains Salmerón. ‘He was used as an icon for a new revolutionary movement in the 1970s.’

After learning the attached building was to be demolished, Salmerón excavated the graffiti in 2006 and permanently installed it into the back of a former military truck.

A relic of the revolution, the truck was sent by the German Democratic Republic to Nicaragua in support of the Sandinistas’ socialist cause. ‘This truck is a testimony to political conflict’, says Salmerón.

The wall and truck have travelled a great distance from their original contexts and are now exhibited in public spaces like Tate Modern. Their presence raises questions about the revolutionary ideas they symbolise and how those ideas move and transform over time.