Teresa Margolles

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Teresa Margolles
Teresa Margolles

Known forPhotography
Performance art
Conceptual art
AwardsPrince Claus Award (2012)
Artes Mundi (2012)

Teresa Margolles (Culiacán, Mexico,1963) is a conceptual artist, photographer, videographer, and performance artist. As an artist she researches the social causes and consequences of death.[1][2]

Margolles communicates observations from the morgue in her home city, Mexico City, and other morgues located in Latin America, as well as the extended emotional distress and social consequences that occur as product of death by murder. While working around the topic of the body, her work extends to the families of the victims, the remaining living bodies that witness the death of a loved one.[3]

The main medium of her work comes from the morgues themselves, which she transforms into sensory experiences that provoke a feeling of memory to the audience. Margolles finds particularly remarkable how the activity inside the morgues reflects the truth from the outside. In the case of Mexico City, she observes that the majority of victims belong to the lower classes. "Looking at the dead you see society".[4]

Life and career[edit]

Margolles was originally trained as a forensic pathologist, and holds academic degrees in science communication and forensic medicine from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City. She also conducted art studies at the Direccion de Fomento a la Cultura Regional del Estado de Sinaloa, Culiacan, Mexico.[5]

For her the morgue reflects society, particularly Mexican urban experience, where drug-related crime, poverty, political upheaval, and military action have resulted in violence and death;[6]

"The work of Teresa Margolles has always taken the human body and its liquid components as protagonists; they serve as vehicles for a relentless indictment of the growing violence in the world at large and in her own native country in particular, namely Mexico."[7] Letizia Ragaglia, 2011 "When I was working with SEMEFO I was very interested in what was happening inside the morgue and the situations that were occurring, let's say, a few meters outside the morgue, among family members and relatives. But Mexico has changed so violently that it's no longer possible to describe what's happening outside from within the morgue. The pain, loss and emptiness are now found in the streets."[8] Teresa Margolles, 2009

Visitors interacting with 'Escuchando los Sonidos de la muerte, by visual artist Teresa Margolles.

In 1990, Margolles founded an artists' collective titled SEMEFO, which is an anagram for the Mexican coroner's office.[9] Other core members of SEMEFO included Arturo Angulo and Carlos Lopez, yet the group had a loose membership.[9] Through performance and installation-based work, SEMEFO commented on social violence and death in Mexico.

Margolles left SEMEFO in the late 1990s.[10] Since then her independent art practice continues to explore themes of death, violence and exclusion, specifically using forensic material and human remains.[11] She uses materials retrieved from the morgue where she has her studio,[12] such as the water used to wash corpses, which she uses as the foundation for her work;

"The water comes from Mexico City’s morgue. It’s water used to wash the bodies of murder victims."[12] Teresea Margolles, 2006

One of Teresa Margolles’ first solo exhibitions to reach a larger audience was her show in the Museum Für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany titled Muerte Sin Fin (Death Without End) in 2004.[13] In this interactive, installation-based art, Margolles uses her usual materials from the morgue to draw attention to death, to the anonymous corpses resulting from violent killings in Mexico City, and to people’s inclination to disassociate from death and dying.[14] Within this exhibit, there are seven components that each help to convey Margolles’ message about the importance of death, reinforcing its gravity and facing it head on.[15] The first installation is titled En el aire, a hallway full of soap bubbles from a machine that creates a bright, peaceful atmosphere, but in reality, it’s made from the water used to wash the bodies before an autopsy in the morgue.[15] It demonstrates a reminder about how fragile life can be while also affirming one’s own consciousness and awareness of death.[15] A well-known part of this exhibit named Papeles, features rows of varying shades of water colored paper that also incorporates the water used in the morgue, but has blood and fat from the bodies shown as well. Margolles creates these as a type of portrait, making a physical memento of these lives that were lost.[16]

Critical reception[edit]


In 2012 she was honored with a Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands[1] and the 5th Artes Mundi prize for international contemporary art.[17]

She exhibits worldwide and has two works in the Tate collection; Flag I,[18] a version of a work shown at the Venice Biennale in 2009 when Margolles represented Mexico, and 37 Bodies,[19] which memorializes Mexican murder victims with short pieces of surgical thread knotted together to form a single line.[18] Her work is included in the main curated exhibition of the 2019 Venice Biennale "May You Live in Interesting Times".[20]

In 2016 she was a part of the Current:LA Biennial made by the Department of Cultural Affairs in the city of Los Angeles.

Solo and significant group exhibitions[edit]

Margolles has been presenting in venues all over the world.[21]

Public Collections (selection)[edit]

The work of Teresa Margolles is featured in international collections around the world. Installations and examples of her artistic practice are held in permanent collections at[21]


  • Kittelmann, Udo & Klaus Görner (2004) Teresa Margolles. Muerte sin fin, Ostfildern-Ruit, ISBN 978-3-7757-1473-0 (in Spanish)
  • Margolles, Teresa (2011) Margolles, Teresa. Frontera, Walther König, Cologne, ISBN 978-3-86560-976-2 (in Spanish)
  • Downey, Anthony (2009) "127 Cuerpos: Teresa Margolles and the Aesthetics of Commemoration", Lund Humphries, London, ISBN 978-1-84822-016-4
  • Scott Bray, R (2007) "En piel ajena: The work of Teresa Margolles" Law Text Culture 11(1), pgs. 13-50, URL: http://ro.uow.edu.au/ltc/vol11/iss1/2/
  • Downey, Anthony (2012) "In the Event of Death: Teresa Margolles and the Life of the Corpse", in Artes Mundi 5, pp. 62–66
  • Heartney, Eleanor; Posner; Princenthal; Scott (2013) The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium, published by Prestel Verlag, pp. 206 – 213, [[ISBN Number|ISBN 978-3-7913-4759-2]]
  • Sileo, Diego. (2019) Teresa Margolles: Ya Basta Hijos de Puta, Silvana Editorale, ISBN 978-8836639168
  • Baddeley, Oriana (2007) 'Teresa Margolles and the Pathology of Everyday Death.' Dardo, 5. pp. 60-81. ISSN 1886-0893


  1. ^ a b Prince Claus Fund (June 2012) Report from the 2012 Prince Claus Awards Committee
  2. ^ Great women artists. Rebecca Morrill, Karen, November 15- Wright, Louisa Elderton. London. 2019. ISBN 978-0-7148-7877-5. OCLC 1099690505.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Birgisdottir, Idunn (2020-02-28). "Teresa Margolles' Morbid Beauty". Artland Magazine. Retrieved 2023-04-05.
  4. ^ "Teresa Margolles - Liverpool Biennial 2006 | Tate". www.tate.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  5. ^ "Entrevista a Teresa Margolles, artista visual. | ::Hipermedula.org". hipermedula.org. Retrieved 2022-03-07.
  6. ^ Coulson, Amanda (2004-09-10). "Teresa Margolles". Frieze. No. 85. ISSN 0962-0672. Retrieved 2023-04-05.
  7. ^ Wolfs, Rein; Ragaglia, Letizia (2011). Frontera, Teresa Margolles. Koln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig. ISBN 978-3-865-60976-2.
  8. ^ Medina, Cuauhtemoc (2009). What Else Could We Talk About?. Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. p. 85. ISBN 978-84-92480-66-1.
  9. ^ a b Scott Bray, R (2007). "En piel ajena: The work of Teresa Margolles". Law Text Culture. 11 (1): 17. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  10. ^ Roca, José (October 2012). "Flag I, Teresa Margolles". Tate.
  11. ^ Scott Bray, R (2007). "En piel ajena: The work of Teresa Margolles". Law Text Culture. 11 (1): 26–27. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  12. ^ a b "Teresa Margolles, Liverpool Biennial 2006". Tate.
  13. ^ ArtFacts. "Teresa Margolles - Muerte sin fin | Exhibition". ArtFacts. Retrieved 2023-05-24.
  14. ^ Kahn, Jillien (June 29, 2012). "Teresa Margolles, Muerte Sin Fin". The Order of the Good Death. Retrieved 2023-05-24.
  15. ^ a b c "Teresa Margolles - Muerte sin fin". Museum Für Moderne Kunst. 2004. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  16. ^ Carroll, Amy Sara (2010). "Muerte Sin Fin: Teresa Margolles's Gendered States of Exception". TDR (1988-). 54 (2): 103–125. doi:10.1162/dram.2010.54.2.103. ISSN 1054-2043. JSTOR 40650615. S2CID 57566262.
  17. ^ "Artes Mundi 5 Shortlist & Winners". Artes Mundi.
  18. ^ a b "Flag I, Teresa Margolles". Tate.
  19. ^ "37 Bodies, Teresa Margolles". Tate.
  20. ^ "Teresa Margolles. Venice Biennale 2019".
  21. ^ a b c Artdaily. "Teresa Margolles opens first exhibition in Chile at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende opens". artdaily.cc. Retrieved 2023-04-05.
  22. ^ "In the Air: Projections of Mexico". Guggenheim. 2007-12-05. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  23. ^ a b "Teresa Margolles: We Have a Common Thread | Colby College Museum of Art". Colby College. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  24. ^ "EL TESTIGO.TERESA MARGOLLES". ca2m.org. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  25. ^ a b Mitter, Siddhartha (2020-01-16). "When Art Begins at the Scene of a Crime". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-06.
  26. ^ "The Gift of Art • Pérez Art Museum Miami". Pérez Art Museum Miami. Retrieved 2023-04-05.
  27. ^ "Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth: Winning artworks announced", BBC News, 5 July 2021.
  28. ^ "Pérez Art Museum Miami Announces Latin American and Latinx Art Fund • Pérez Art Museum Miami". Pérez Art Museum Miami. Retrieved 2023-04-05.
  29. ^ "Teresa Margolles | Princeton University Art Museum". artmuseum.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2023-04-05.