In honor of Doris Salcedo’s designation as the inaugural Nasher Prize Laureate, the Nasher Sculpture Center was pleased to present an installation of her 2008–10 work
(in loose translation, “silent prayer”).
Plegaria Muda consists of long, narrow wooden tables that have been covered with a thick layer of earth held in place by a table of the same size and type turned atop it. In places, bright green blades of grass push their way through the overturned tabletop, into the light. These objects—some thirty in the Nasher’s installation—are arrayed by the artist in an irregular, mazelike grid, the narrow spaces of which the viewer traverses to experience the work as a whole. The size and proportion of the tables approximate the human body; their wooden forms remind one inescapably of coffins, and the earth interred in them in turn suggests the soil displaced from a freshly dug grave. Walking among the tables creates the impression of being in the midst of a cemetery, a place of mourning, memory, and reflection.
Salcedo’s impetus for the creation of Plegaria Muda came from a trip she made to Los Angeles in 2004, researching reports that more than 10,000 young people had been killed on the streets of L.A. in the past two decades. She spent time in the city’s southeast neighborhoods, researching the toll of gang violence on families and pondering the effects of such violence on those whose impoverished living conditions were already precarious, creating situations which Salcedo has described as “social death” or “death in life.” But while her time in Los Angeles was an impetus to Salcedo’s creation of Plegaria Muda, the work itself was also her response to the murder of some 2,500 young people in Colombia between 2003 and 2009 by the Colombian army. Salcedo accompanied a group of mothers searching for their “disappeared” sons, who were found in mass graves. The sons’ abandonment in these unmarked, desolate places and the mothers’ process of identifying them from remains and personal effects converge in Salcedo’s creation of a place of witnessing and mourning; she explained: “Colombia—the country of the unburied dead—has hundreds of unidentified mass graves where the dead remain nameless. For this very reason, I inscribed the image of the grave within this piece, creating a space for remembrance, a graveyard that opens up a space for each body.”
Plegaria Muda was on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center from February 27, 2016 to April 17, 2016. The work appeared courtesy of the artist; Alexander and Bonin, New York; White Cube; and the Inhotim Collection, Brazil. The Nasher Sculpture Center is very grateful to Doris Salcedo and her studio partners for traveling to Dallas to prepare and install this work.