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Doris Salcedo, Palimpsesto, 2013-2017, Reina Sofia, 6 October 2017 – 1 April 2018

DORIS SALCEDO MUESTRA EL LLANTO DE LAS MADRES DE INMIGRANTES AHOGADOSIn Palimpsesto, the title of her intervention in the Palacio de Cristal, Salcedo refers to all those who have drowned in the Mediterranean and Atlantic over the past twenty years attempting to emigrate from their countries of origin in search of a better life with greater freedom. Some of the names of men and women who died while fleeing are temporarily and intermittently written with drops of water on stone slabs made through a complex hydraulic engineering system. The work examines how art confronts the way in which violence perforates each gesture, object and situation in contemporary society.


The work of Doris Salcedo (Bogotá, 1958) is deeply rooted in the social and political circumstances of her native Colombia, although she does occasionally address problems in other contexts — a case in point being the project she has devised for the Palacio de Cristal. Time and again, her work sets out from rigorous research as she employs sculpture and installation to approach situations of conflict, with violence and its victims, memory and forgetting ever-present. Salcedo’s use of everyday materials and personal objects often takes on a sinister quality to evoke the absence of those people they are related to, or those to which they belong: missing persons, refugees, people who have been murdered or forgotten… Her pieces — poetic, fragile, beautiful — encompass drama, trauma and violence, often working as remembrance or homage, mourning for the living and, above all, people who die forgotten.     

Salcedo’s body of work is indivisible from the context of Colombia and the so-called “culture of the wound”; that is, the link between violence, privacy and public space. Exposing and probing this wound through art, yet standing back from the sensationalism and frivolity found in certain corners of the mass media, constitutes one of her primary aims. Therefore, works such as Atrabiliarios (1990–1991), a series of twenty niches with footprints left by the shoes of Colombian women who have been victims of kidnapping and rape but remain unidentified, or La Casa Viuda (1992-1995), an installation made up of sculptures of assembled furniture and doors taken from houses destroyed by the so-called “death squads” in Colombia, show the viewer the history and invisible subjects of a society in conflict.

Salcedo studied at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá between 1988 and 1991, complementing her knowledge of sculpture at New York University in 1994, where she studied the minimalist movement, a language she would radically subvert. Her work tackles the relationship art bears with trauma and its capacity to publicly reveal and exorcise grief in the face of loss, thus adopting the repetition and seriality of minimalist sculpture to define a silent space and poignancy that is conducive to memory and remembrance. Yet, contrasting with practices in minimalism, the artist references specific violent episodes in recent Colombian history in such a way that her installations sit halfway between relic – personal objects, furniture, hair, clothes — and anti-monument, granting visibility to victims deprived of public recognition.  

Doris Salcedo’s body of work has been the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2015) and USA tour through 2016. Her work has been displayed in museums and art centres: New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, 1998), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1999 and 2005), Tate Britain (London, 1999), Camden Arts Centre (London, 2001), Tate Modern Turbine Hall (London, 2007), Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea (Belo Horizonte, 2008), MUAC (Mexico City, 2011), Moderna Museet (Malmö, 2011) and MAXXI (Rome, 2012). Salcedo has taken part in international biennials: the XXIV São Paulo Biennial (1998), Trace, the Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art (1999), documenta 11, Kassel (2002), 8th International Istanbul Biennial (2003), and T1 Triennial for Contemporary Art, Turin (2005). She has also been the art awards: Premio Velázquez de las Artes Plásticas (2010), the Hiroshima Art Prize (2014), and the Nasher Prize for Sculpture (2015).

Doris Salcedo, Palimpsesto, 2013-2017.
Palacio de Cristal, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
6 October 2017 – 1 April 2018

Vimeo:  https://vimeo.com/237718785

Images; Doris Salcedo, Palimpsesto, 2013-2017. Photos: Juan Fernando Castro

About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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