Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning brings together a deeply evocative constellation of recent works by Doris Salcedo (Colombian, b. 1958), the renowned Bogotá-based artist known for her sculptures and public installations that respond to the testimonies of survivors and victims of political violence. Evoking themes such as the lasting grief of war, Salcedo’s works honor, acknowledge, and mourn those lost to oppression and political violence in Colombia and beyond. The pieces also address 20th-century preoccupation with materiality and the object; however, Salcedo’s artistic process is distinctive in the way it fuses painstaking research with works fastidiously made by hand.
The Materiality of Mourning features four separate installations, with a number of Salcedo’s works created between 2001 and today. These include the Harvard Art Museums’ recent acquisition, A Flor de Piel (2013), which will be shown publicly for the first time in this exhibition. A room-size tapestry comprised of thousands of preserved hand-sewn red rose petals, the work is intended as a shroud for a nurse who was tortured to death in the Colombian war.
Additional objects on view include a selection of Salcedo’s seminal sculptures, on loan from private and public collections as well as from the artist herself. Several works incorporate domestic furniture in unsettling configurations. Thou-less (2001–02), for instance, is comprised of carved, stainless steel chairs that are at once familiar and strange. Other works highlight how Salcedo has recently pushed her commitment to materiality and its expressive possibilities to new extremes. These include four works from the Disremembered series, individual ephemeral blouse-like sculptures that are constructed of handwoven silk threads filled with tiny needles. Each Disremembered sculpture provides a spectral contrast to Salcedo’s dense physically imposing works, such as the two Untitled furniture pieces (2008) made of wood, metal, and concrete—with a combined weight of over 1,800 pounds—that will also be shown in the exhibition.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, the illustrated exhibition catalog, Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning, explores how the artist challenges not only the limits of the materials she uses but also the traditions of sculpture itself, in a compelling look at Doris Salcedo’s works from the past fifteen years. This pioneering book, which focuses on Salcedo’s works from 2001 to the present, examines the development and evolution of her approach. These sculptures have pushed toward new extremes, incorporating organic materials—rose petals, grass, soil—in order to blur the line between the permanent and the ephemeral.
The insightful text illuminates the artist’s practice: exhaustive personal interviews and deep research joined with painstaking acts of making that both challenge limits and set new directions in materiality. Mary Schneider Enriquez convincingly argues for viewing Salcedo’s oeuvre not just through a particular theoretical lens, such as violence studies or trauma and memory studies, but for the profound way the artist engages with and expands the traditions of sculpture as a medium, drawing on more than a decade of research and delvings into Salcedo’s complex artistic practice, the significance of materiality, and the political context informing her work. An essay by conservation scientist Narayan Khandekar explores the artist’s use of organic and nontraditional materials, particularly with regard to the conservation challenges they pose. The catalogue also includes a contribution from Salcedo herself, reflecting on the philosophical underpinnings of her work and on her decision to remain working in her native Colombia.