Doris Salcedo. Widowed House IV. 1994. Wood, fabric, and bones, 102 5/16 x 18 1/2 x 13" (259.9 x 47 x 33 cm). Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds, Latin American and Caribbean Fund, and gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros

“The important task for an artist here is to try to give society tools of mourning....”

Doris Salcedo

Doris Salcedo collects witness statements and testimonies from individuals who have fallen victim to the ongoing conflict in her native Colombia between far-left guerrilla groups, the military, drug traffickers, and paramilitary forces. While these personal narratives are not immediately decipherable in the final artworks, they inform the ways in which she approaches each project, centering her process on the memories of others. “My work is based on experiences I lack,” Salcedo explained. “Therefore, it is made from an unfamiliar, unstable place, simultaneously strange and proper. It is made from an indirect perspective, and place of insufficiency from which a fragmentary, incomplete history is precariously told and retold.”1

Salcedo began her career in the late 1970s, studying painting at the Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano. There she learned from the renowned Colombian artist Beatriz González, who often incorporated found, everyday materials—including pieces of domestic furniture—into her work, a practice that would become central to Salcedo’s own approach.2 In the early 1980s, Salcedo enrolled in the MFA program at New York University, where she became captivated by the work of Joseph Beuys, and particularly inspired by the German artist’s interest in infusing sculpture with sociopolitical meaning. Salcedo wrote, “I found the possibility of integrating my political awareness with sculpture. I discovered how materials have the capacity to convey specific meaning.”3

Since the early 1990s, Salcedo has altered furniture by filling these domestic objects with cement and combining unrelated pieces, so that they are rendered dysfunctional. Composed of a wooden door flanked by bedposts, a woman’s blouse, and a single bone, Widowed House IV (1994) is an uncanny assemblage that highlights the absence of the human. For Untitled (1995), the artist filled a bureau and chairs with cement, creating an image of violation vis-à-vis the intrusion of one material into the other. The contrast of wood grain, grey cement, and rebar creates a disquieting juxtaposition: the familiar with the impersonal, the domestic with the industrial.

Salcedo also presents the personal items of victims, as in Atrabilious (1992–93), a work in which she encased worn women’s shoes in niches covered by a scrim made of a stretched cow’s bladder. Barely visible, the shoes become surrogates for the disappeared. Explaining her selection of materials for this work, Salcedo said, “I had placed myself exactly [in the circumstances of the victims], with minimal resources and working with the most despicable material you can think of. Something that we all feel repelled by. Cow bladders on one hand, and old shoes. We don’t like old shoes but nevertheless every time we see a shoe on the street we wonder what happened there. It’s the wrong place for that shoe to be.”4

In 1999, Salcedo made the first of many public interventions. Responding to the assassination of the Colombian journalist and satirist Jaime Garzón, Salcedo worked with a group of artists to hammer a line of upside down roses on a wall across the street from where Garzón had lived. She soon expanded her practice to closely examine conflict and war in contexts beyond Colombia, as with her public work Untitled (2003), which addresses migration and displacement in Istanbul.

Despite her international outlook, Salcedo has remained engaged with events in her home country. Following a 2016 plebiscite in which Colombians narrowly voted against peace agreements that would have ended the decades-long conflict, Salcedo worked with 100 participants to sew together 2,000 pieces of white cloth—each displaying the name of a victim written in ash—creating a massive canvas, Sumando Ausencias (Adding Absences), that covered Bogotá’s entire Bolívar Square. Speaking about her interventions in the city of Bogotá, Salcedo said, “the important task for an artist here is to try to give society tools of mourning.... Art cannot explain things, but at least art can expose them.”5

Madeline Murphy Turner, Cisneros Institute/C-MAP Latin America Fellow

  1. Doris Salcedo, “From the Artist,” in Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning, Mary Schneider Enriquez (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Art Museums, 2016), xvii.

  2. Mary Schneider Enriquez, Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Art Museums, 2016), 31–36.

  3. Carlos Basualdo, “Carlos Basualdo in Conversation with Doris Salcedo,” in Doris Salcedo, eds. Nancy Princenthaal, Carlos Basualdo, and Andreas Huyssen (London: Phaidon Press, 2000), 10. Cited in Schneider Enriquez, 32.

  4. Doris Salcedo and Glenn Lowry, Atrabilious, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

  5. “Doris Salcedo on Bogotá—‘The Forces Here Are Brutal,’” Artist Cities (Tate, 2016)

Wikipedia entry
Doris Salcedo (born 1958) is a Colombian-born visual artist and sculptor. Her work is influenced by her experiences of life in Colombia and is generally composed of commonplace items such as wooden furniture, clothing, concrete, grass, and rose petals. Salcedo's work gives form to pain, trauma, and loss, while creating space for individual and collective mourning. These themes stem from her own personal history. Members of her own family were among the many people who have disappeared in politically troubled Colombia. Much of her work deals with the fact that, while the death of a loved one can be mourned, their disappearance leaves an unbearable emptiness. Salcedo lives and works in Bogotá, Colombia.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Colombian artist, Bogotá.
Colombian, South American
Artist, Painter, Sculptor
Doris Salcedo
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


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