Who is Doris Salcedo?

Who is Doris Salcedo?

Who is Doris Salcedo and why should we care? Doris Salcedo is one of today's most influential but least known artists. The first-ever retrospective of her work opened Saturday at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and continues through May 24, 2015.

The show, containing pieces from all of Salcedo’s major bodies of work spanning her 30-year career, could change your world...or at least your perceptions.

The subject of Salcedo's work is not always pretty but it is real.

The Colombian sculptor's work is about mourning. Influenced by the horrific violence she observed throughout the world, but especially in her native Bogotá, Colombia, Salcedo wanted to find a way to bring humanity to the losses.  She worries that society has become hardened to violence and that victims have become mere statistics or headlines.

The artist wants her work to be a reminder of the risk to humanity when the loss of our most disenfranchised is not properly mourned.

Instead of realistically depicting the violence Salcedo has observed and researched, her sculptures poignantly point to the losses with objects and symbols.

Salcedo sees things through her personal lens. You may not see what she sees when you initially view her work. That's alright.  Take your time, look beyond the surface...and you'll see.

As you enter the exhibition, you see a vast space filled with tables stacked on top of each other.

Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda, 2008-10. Installation view, CAM-Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 2011. Inhotim Collection, Brazil. Photo: Patrizia Tocci

Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda, 2008-10. Installation view, CAM-Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 2011. Inhotim Collection, Brazil. Photo: Patrizia Tocci

Look closely, as you walk through the carefully placed maze of tables and you may see what the artist sees. The sculpture, "Plegaria Muda" (2008-10) (“Silent Prayer”), making its U.S. debut at the MCA, began with Salcedo's research into gang violence in Los Angeles.  Each sculpture contains two hand-crafted tables approximating the size and shape of coffins that represent the anonymity of victims in mass graves. Look even closer and you'll see live grass growing from an earth-like layer in between the tables and you'll find hope.

You see stacks of dress shirts.

Doris Salcedo, Installation view, Doris Salcedo Studio, Bogotá, 2013. Photo: Oscar Monsalve Pino. Courtesy White Cube. Reproduced courtesy of the artist; Alexander and Bonin, New York; and White Cube

Doris Salcedo, Installation view, Doris Salcedo Studio, Bogotá, 2013. Photo: Oscar Monsalve Pino. Courtesy White Cube. Reproduced courtesy of the artist; Alexander and Bonin, New York; and White Cube

These eleven "Untitled" sculptures (1989-90), composed of white cotton shirts in plaster and impaled by steel rebar, are Salcedo's response to two 1988 massacres that took place on banana plantations in La Negra and La Honduras. The shirts represent the standard dress of the plantation workers while alluding to the absence of their bodies as well as the funerary dress for the dead.

You see old and battered shoes through a shadowy screen.

DorisSalecedoshoes

In this sculpture "Atrabiliarios" (1992-2004) Salcedo sees the shoes of primarily female victims that were treated with particular cruelty across Columbia and the lasting effects of violence.  The screen placed over the encased shoes is preserved animal fiber that represents the fraught relationship between memory and time. The empty boxes seem to anticipate more deaths to come.

You see a crack in the floor--an earthquake, perhaps?

Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth, 2007. Installation view, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London, 2007. Photo: Sergio Clavijo. Reproduced courtesy of the artist; Alexander and Bonin, New York; and White Cube

Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth, 2007. Installation view, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London, 2007. Photo: Sergio Clavijo. Reproduced courtesy of the artist; Alexander and Bonin, New York; and White Cube

This sculpture, "Shibboleth" (2007), although not physically part of the exhibition, is shown in the video documentary accompanying the MCA exhibition. The powerful sculpture, commissioned project for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London, created a crack in the concrete floor running the length of the massive Hall.  The impressive sculpture is a meditation on immigration and racism.

The Doris Salcedo exhibition will be at the MCA through May 24, 2015 before traveling to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (June 26 - October 14, 2015) and the Pérez Art Museum Miami (May 6 - October 23, 2016).

For more information about the exhibition and the many related events, click here.

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