Doris Salcedo

2016 Laureate
For the past three decades, Salcedo has created sculptures and installations that transform familiar, everyday objects into moving and powerful testimonies of loss and remembrance. Working in a variety of modes, from objects and large-scale installations to public interventions, she has fearlessly taken creative and political risks to challenge audiences with innovative, significant work. Salcedo’s commitment and her willingness to push artistic boundaries have already inspired a generation of artists, even as her work continues to grow and respond to many of the most salient issues facing humanity. 

The Work of Doris Salcedo

Born in Bogotá in 1958, Salcedo began her artistic career with responses to the violence that has afflicted Colombia for half a century.  As the country with the longest-lasting civil conflict in the Western Hemisphere, Colombia has been torn apart by battles between the government, paramilitary groups, and guerillas, resulting in the deaths of more than 220,000 people and the displacement of millions. Countless families have seen loved ones “disappeared,” presumed dead but with no information other than the fact of their absence. Salcedo’s art gives form to these and other devastating losses, using the materiality of sculpture to present what is otherwise too easily ignored, denied, or repressed. She spends long periods meeting and talking with the victims of violence and their families, and sees her art as performing a role similar to that of a funeral oration, exploring ways to keep lives and experiences from being forgotten. Describing “the experience of mourning” as “the central tenet in my art for the last thirty years,” Salcedo has explained, “The only possible response I can give in the face of irreparable absence is to produce images capable of conveying incompleteness, lack, and emptiness.” 

Salcedo’s work often begins with simple, recognizable objects that have close connections to the human body. The transformations she effects on them frequently arise from her use of techniques and processes with connections to the care and tending of bodies alive and dead: wrapping, binding, encasing, cutting, and stitching.  Some of her early sculptures were created from altered hospital furniture, such as bedframes, into which she also incorporated small plastic baby dolls, dipped in wax and bound to the joints of the sculpture with animal fiber; while making these works, Salcedo was thinking of the impoverished boys taken by drug cartels and forced to become assassins, yet the results neither narrate nor preach.

Likewise, for a group of untitled sculptures made over the course of nearly twenty years, Salcedo took pieces of household furniture, such as armoires, beds, tables, and chairs, and filled them with concrete, sometimes pressing into them clothing provided by victims of violence or their families. Such works, while possessing the massive abstract geometry of minimal sculpture, turn their monolithic qualities into disquieting evocations of smothering weight and hidden truths. In Plegaria Muda (in loose translation, “silent prayer”), Salcedo created a flexible installation of long rectangular tables stacked top to top with a layer of earth between, their forms suggesting coffins – an effect heightened by the fragile shoots of grass sprouting from varied points along each overturned table. More recently, for A Flor de Piel, Salcedo stitched together treated rose petals to form an immense, translucently hued floor piece that seems simultaneously to be a skin, a shroud, and a blood-stained topography seen as if from above.

Salcedo’s sculptures draw upon the traditions of abstract art for their power, seeking the conceptual and emotional resonance of elemental forms even as she incorporates traditional communal activities, such as sewing and weaving, into her works’ creation. This communal aspect is also vital to her formidable body of public sculpture, which was initiated in 1999-2000 with a series of interventions in the streets of Bogotá commemorating the murder of Jaime Garzón, a political satirist, in which roses were laid across streets and hung from walls. For Noviembre 6 y 7 (2002), Salcedo marked the seventeenth anniversary of a siege and massacre at the Colombian Palace of Justice by lowering empty chairs, each representing a victim, from the building’s roof, while in Acción de Duelo (2007), almost 24,000 candles were lit in Bogotá’s Plaza del Bolívar in response to the murders of eleven Colombian deputies by Marxist guerillas. Perhaps her best known such intervention, Shibboleth put a massive, 550-foot long crack into the floor of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, using this rupture of public space as a way to meditate upon immigration, assimilation, and the unfair and arbitrary decisions our prejudices can demand of others.

“It is a great responsibility to select the first winner of a new prize, as it sets the tone for what the prize can and is willing to achieve,” said Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota, who served as one of the Nasher Prize’s seven jurors. “In selecting a winner, we wanted to choose someone whose work was not only innovative, challenging, and significant, but also someone whose work continues to take risks, and address the changing contemporary conditions. From the outset, Doris Salcedo has created memorable work that deals with conflict. Most importantly, her work continues to evolve and change, both conceptually and aesthetically, as it addresses social and political issues most relevant to us today.”

Doris Salcedo’s works are held in many museum collections, including the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Neue Galerie, Kassel; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Tate, London. Her retrospective exhibition Doris Salcedo, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, until October 12, 2015, and will travel to the Perez Art Museum, Miami, April 22—July 17, 2016. Find out more about the Nasher Prize and Doris Salcedo’s career.

About Doris Salcedo

Doris Salcedo is an acclaimed Colombian sculptor and installation artist whose work addresses the most salient social and political issues of our time.  Employing everyday objects and domestic materials, Salcedo creates quietly poetic sculptural and installation works that serve as monuments to political crises and tragedies, and which speak to the themes of trauma, empathy, memory, and loss.

Often taking major historical events as her point of departure, Salcedo creates works that suffuse mundane objects with layers of meaning in order to commemorate, memorialize, and investigate personal, political, and historical traumas native to both her homeland and the rest of the world. Both aesthetically striking and political resonant, Salcedo’s work pushes the traditional boundaries of sculpture.

Her early works, like La Casa Viuda (1992-1995), which delved into Colombia’s recent political history, combined household furniture with textiles to create haunting, minimalist installations. In the decades since, Salcedo has gone on to create larger installations—such as Noviembre 6 y 7 (2002), a work commemorating the seizing of the Supreme Court in Bogotá installed in the city’s Palace of Justice and Installation for the 8th Istanbul Biennale, which consisted of over 1,500 wooden chairs piled high between two unremarkable buildings in central Istanbul, memorializing lives lost in international wars and conflicts. Through the use of unconventional materials and unexpected spaces, Salcedo creates psychologically charged, immersive experiences for visitors that challenge the way viewers grapple with and conceive of the medium.

Doris Salcedo is a native of Bogota, Colombia, where she continues to live and work. She is currently the subject of an eponymous solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and will travel to the Pérez Art Museum in Miami in April 2016. Additional past solo exhibitions include: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1998); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1999 and 2005); Tate Britain, London (1999); Tate Modern, London (2007); MAXXI Rome and Pinacoteca São Paolo (2012); and Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima City, Japan (2014). Salcedo has also been included in notable group exhibitions such as: XXVI São Paolo Biennale (1998); Documenta XI, Kassel (2002); 8th Istanbul Biennial (2003); NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York and The Menil Collection, Houston (2008); and The New Décor, Hayward Gallery, London (2010).

Salcedo has also been the recipient of numerous awards, grants, and honorary doctorates from organizations and institutions including the Penny McCall Foundation, The Guggenheim Foundation, San Francisco Art Institute, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, The Spanish Ministry of Culture, and Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. She received a B.F.A. from the Universidad de Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano in 1980 and an M.A. in Sculpture from New York University in 1984. She also served as Director of the School of Plastic Arts, Institute de Bellas Artes, Cali, Colombia from 1987-1988, and as Professor of Sculpture and Art Theory, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota from 1989-1991.