Inspired by the recent history of her native Colombia, Doris Salcedo creates sculptures that address the effects of war, political oppression, and other acts of violence. Composed of found materials—including domestic furniture, remnants of clothing, and human bones—her works tell harrowing tales of trauma and affliction.
The wooden chest and chairs in Untitled have been divested of their usual purposes, transformed into monuments to the missing. "I believe that the major possibilities of art are not in showing the spectacle of violence but instead in hiding it," the artist has said. "It is the proximity, the latency of violence that interests me."
Gallery label from Contemporary Art from the Collection, 2011.
This sculpture is one of a series Salcedo has created that commemorates individual victims of the protracted violence and civil war in her native Colombia. Salcedo spent weeks with the families and loved ones of the deceased, infusing herself with the details of their lives. Based on these experiences, she created sculptures from domestic furniture and clothing once touched by the warmth of daily use. Complete with legs, backs, feet, and handles, the dresser and chairs in this untitled work may be seen as stand-ins for the missing body of a victim and the fractured lives of his or her family. The soft, warm grain of the wooden furniture contrasts with the gray mass of cold, hard concrete and rebar that fills the interior spaces and violates the structure of these objects. The furniture, bulky and mute, has been rendered useless by the sheer weight and volume of its concrete interment. The objects now mark time and space, bearing witness to an act of violence and functioning as memento mori. They are public reckonings of private loss and personal grief within a desperate, charged political environment. "My work deals with the fact that the beloved—the object of violence—always leaves his or her trace imprinted on us," Salcedo has said.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 148.