Doris Salcedo

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Shibboleth at Tate Modern

Doris Salcedo (born 1958) is a Colombian-born sculptor. Salcedo completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Universidad de Bogotá, Jorge Tadeo Lozano in 1980, before traveling to New York, where she completed a Master of Fine Arts degree at New York University. She then returned to Bogotá to teach at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Her work is influenced by her experiences of life in Colombia, and is generally composed of items of furniture.[1]

Doris Salcedo is the eighth artist to have been commissioned to produce work for the turbine hall of the Tate Modern gallery in London. Her piece, Shibboleth (2007), is a 167-metre-long crack in the hall's floor that Salcedo says "represents borders, the experience of immigrants, the experience of segregation, the experience of racial hatred. It is the experience of a Third World person coming into the heart of Europe".[2][3]

Art as repair[edit]

Doris Salcedo addresses the question of forgetting and memory in her installation artwork. In pieces such as Unland: The Orphan’s Tunic from 1997 and the La Casa Viuda series from the early 1990s, Salcedo takes ordinary household items, such as a chair and table, and transforms them into memorials for victims of the Civil War in Colombia.

In his book Present Pasts: Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory, Andreas Huyssen dedicates a chapter to Doris Salcedo and Unland: The Orphan’s Tunic, presenting her work as “Memory Sculpture.” Huyssen offers a detailed description of the piece, a seemingly mundane table that, when considered closely, “captures the viewer’s imagination in its unexpected, haunting visual and material presence.”[4] A seemingly everyday piece of furniture is in fact made of two destroyed tables joined together and covered with a whitish veil of fabric, presumably the orphan’s original tunic. Upon even closer inspection, hundreds of small human hairs appear to be the thread that is attaching the tunic to the table. Huyssen equates the structure of the tables to the body. “If the tunic is like a skin…then the table gains a metaphoric presence as body, not now of an individual orphan but an orphaned community.”[5] Salcedo’s Unland is a memory sculpture, presenting the past of her own country of Colombia to the international art audience.

During a conversation with Carlos Basualdo, Salcedo discusses her own approach to producing art:

“The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”[6]

Again, in a 1998 interview with Charles Merewether, Salcedo expounds upon this notion of the metamorphosis, describing the experience of the viewer with her own artistic repair or restoration of the past.

“The silent contemplation of each viewer permits the life seen in the work to reappear. Change takes place, as if the experience of the victim were reaching out…The sculpture presents the experience as something present- a reality that resounds within the silence of each human being that gazes upon it.” [7]

Salcedo employs objects from the past, objects imbued with an important sense of history and, through these contemporary memory sculptures, illustrates the flow of time. She joins the past and the present, repairs what she sees as incomplete and, in the eyes of Huyssen, presents “memory at the edge of an abyss…memory in the literal sense…and memory as process.” [8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Biography on Tate Collection website. URL accessed on 8 April 2007.
  2. ^ "Sculptor fills Tate with a hole". BBC News. 2000-10-08. Retrieved 2000-10-08. 
  3. ^ Colombian Art
  4. ^ Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsest and the Politics of Memory (Stanford, CA: Stanford, 2003), 113
  5. ^ Huyssen, 117
  6. ^ Interview with Carlos Basualdo in Doris Salcedo, Edited by Nancy Princenthal, Carlos Basualdo and Andreas Huyssen (London: Phaidon, 2000), 21
  7. ^ Interview with Charles Merewether in Doris Salcedo, 137
  8. ^ Huyssen, 101

Further reading[edit]

  • Bal, Mieke. Of What One Cannot Speak: Doris Salcedo's Political Art, University of Chicago Press, 2011, 264 pages
  • Princenthal, Nancy, Carlos Basualdo and Andrea Huyssen, Doris Salcedo, Phaidon, London, 2000, 160 pages
  • Saggio, Antonino, "Doris Salcedo o del fare", L'Architetto Italiano, n.24 pp. 86–87

External links[edit]