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DORIS SALCEDO - b. 1958 Colombia. Lives and works in Bogota, Colombia.

"The installations represent a collective statement of defiance against the tactics of disappearance which the military exercises over its people...Salcedo's work contributes to an art of memory and consciousness." Charles Merewether

Doris Salcedo makes sculptures and installations about and in response to the violence and conflict of everyday life in her native country of Colombia. Like German artist Joseph Beuys, Salcedo sees her art as representing a social conscience, with her role as a perpetual witness. In a sense the work gives voice to those in Colombian society who are violently repressed, silenced and controlled by fear, and provides the focus for a sense of community, even defiance, though a collective memory and a shared experience of loss.

The materials she works with: simple furniture like wardrobes, tables and chairs, clothing, thread and animal skin, speak of the sanctity and familiarity of everyday domestic life. Through her molding or reshaping of these pieces - embedding a chair within a doorframe, grafting two tables into an unstable hybrid - she creates a traumatized, dysfunctional, object.

With the clothes, each object implies a nameless person; the wearer. In the piece
'Atrabiliarios' (detail, right), meaning defiant, old shoes, in pairs and singles, are encased in a row of wall alcoves, behind sheets of translucent animal skin which are crudely stitched to the wall. Below on the floor are small boxes, like living caskets, made from the same animal membrane. The shoes which bear the marks of wear, all belonged to women who were 'disappeared', and were donated to the artist by victims' families. Their place here, hazily visible through the skin sheet, echoes the persistent memory for all those whose fate and whereabouts is unknown, permanently suspended between the present and the past. "Thus 'Atrabiliarios' is not only a portrait of disappearance, but a portrait of the survivors' mental condition of wracking uncertainty, longing and mourning." [1]

(above) Salcedo, 'Atrabiliarios' [Defiant] (detail), 1992.(2)


Like artist Mona Hatoum, Salcedo implies violence and fragility, through her use of materials rather than with overt or literal statements. She explores the possibilities of expressing the non-visual, of making the invisible, visible.

The untitled installation (left) made in 1990, was in direct response to an incident in Colombia in 1988, where male banana plantation workers were dragged from their homes and murdered.

The shirts are bright white, carefully laundered and folded, piled up and waiting to be worn. Steel poles pierce each pile, pinning them to the floor. This piercing of the soft white cotton, with hard steel, implies a violent interruption. Behind them, (not visible in this image), leaning against the wall, are a series of iron bedframes, again giving a domestic context. Each frame is wrapped with pieces of animal skin, suggesting both a wounding and a healing process.

This idea of healing is a recurrent theme in Salcedo's work. It is evident in both the crude surgical stitches of 'Atrabiliarios' and in the laborious, painstaking embroidery of hair and silk, used to bind the damaged tables in 'The Orphans' Tunic' (part of her 1997 installation, Unland). In a sense she is seeking not only to express the horror of violence but also to investigate the ways people prevail in the face of such torture, repairing their physical and psychological wounds, raising resistance and remembering those who are missing.


"Sculpture for me is the giving of a material gift to the being who makes his presence felt in my work." Doris Salcedo


(left) Salcedo, Untitled, 1990 (3)


Doris Salcedo's makes sculptures and installations using objects which have domestic connotations, signifying the absent human body. The artist expresses feelings of loss or absence using various visual metaphors.

  • What would you do or make, inspired by this artist's work and ideas about absence and presence?
  • What memories or traces are left behind when something is erased? The process of erasure or rubbing out, is one we are familiar with in art, when we make a mistake, when we want to change something or eliminate it. But very often a faint trace or 'ghost' of the original image is left behind and this can be an interesting image in itself. Explore ways of producing an image and then making it disappear so that nothing but a ghostly trace or reminder is left. For instance, you could use a rubber on pencil, water on soluble paint or ink, bleach on a photograph, tracing paper or muslin overlaid on a picture or wrapped round an object, or various filter effects on a computer.
  • Artist Pierre Bismuth has described the digital camera as 'a machine for erasing as much as recording' because it allows you to delete images which exist only in the camera's memory. There is no negative and no original. If each person in the class or group were to take one image on a digital camera and then the whole lot were erased, how many of those missing moments could you recreate (in pictures and/or words)?