Slideshow: Exploring the work of Nasher Prize winner Doris Salcedo

by | Mar 13, 2018 | Nasher Prize


‘Untitled,’ 1989: Metal stakes pierce stacks of plain cotton shirts stiffened with plaster. Salcedo’s brutal memories of her home country form the essence of her art.

During the 1990s, Salcedo did extensive field research on the toll that violence was taking on Colombia. She learned that female victims were treated with particular cruelty; shoes were often used to identify remains — especially in the context of los desaparecidos (the disappeared). In her ‘Atrabiliarios’ installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, worn shoes — primarily women’s — are encased in niches embedded in the gallery wall, then covered by a layer of stretched and preserved animal fiber affixed to the wall with medical sutures.

In 2003, for Istanbul Biennial, Salcedo filled a space between two buildings with 1,550 chairs. The installation represented the mass graves and faceless victims of wartime violence. Photograph by Sergio Clavijo

Noviembre 6 y 7,’ 2002: Some 280 wooden chairs were lowered from the roof of the Palace of Justice in Bogotá on the 17th anniversary of the 1985 siege on the Palace by M-19 guerrillas and the government’s counterattack.

‘Shibboleth’ was installed at the Tate Modern in London in October 2007. It took Salcedo more than a year to make, and five weeks to install. The work began as a hairline crack that widened and deepened as it ran the full 167 meters of the hall.

Minimal in nature, this untitled work from 1989-1990 is made of hospital furniture, such as cots, that have been wrapped in animal fiber. The cots, leaning against the wall, contain white shirts, wrapped like cocoons. Salcedo created this piece, as well as a series of sculptures of shirts impaled with steel stakes, in response to two massacres that took place in 1988 in northern Colombia on the banana plantations of La Negra and La Honduras.

‘Untitled,’ 1995, wooden dresser, wooden chairs with upholstery, concrete, and steel: Salcedo’s work honors the victims of violence in her home country of Colombia, and the furniture — some of which came from the homes of those killed by right-wing death squads — viscerally captures the loss of life.

Salcedo’s ‘La casa Viuda VI’ (meaning “the widowed house”) series from 1995 focuses on doors without buildings, unmoored from their foundations, representing a loss of home and lack of shelter.

‘Acción de Duelo’: On July 3, 2007, 24,000 candles were lit in Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar in response to the death of Colombia’s Valle del Cauca deputies who were taken hostage in 2002.

‘Plegaria Muda,’ 2008-2010: Thin blades of grass grow from slabs of soil sandwiched between wooden tables, which are roughly the size of a coffin. The works evoke both the fragility of hope and the mass graves of Salcedo’s native Colombia.

Inspired by a Colombian nurse who was kidnapped and tortured to death, ‘A Flor de Piel’ (2012) is what Salcedo describes as a “shroud,” made of rose petals that were hand-sutured together. Photograph by David Heald, courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum

‘Dismembered I’ and ‘Disremembered II’ (2014): Each of these sculptures is made of woven raw silk and nearly 12,000 needles. They developed out of years of research into what Salcedo perceives to be society’s inability to mourn. At the core of this investigation is a lack of empathy that pervades public life, in which one person’s loss is not registered by others, and instead those in mourning become stigmatized, adding to their pain.