How does one mourn a loved one who has been "disappeared"? How can you express the wounds of a nation scarred by civil strife, war, torture, and mass graves?
For a gut-wrenching glimpse into the horror, visit Colombian artist Doris Salcedo's exhibit opening today at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). The pieces evoke a collective sense of loss and reflect on the social violence and political turmoil roiling the world today. It boasts several soul-withering sculptures and installations representing 30 years of the artist's oeuvre. Her namesake exhibition marks the largest presentation of production to date.
On view are works such as A Flor de Piel, inspired by the story of a Colombian nurse who was dismembered by paramilitary forces. It consists of a quarter-million rose petals stitched together to form a room-engulfing shroud.
Her early Untitled series feature works ranging from the skeletal frames of hospital cots to wooden chairs, nightstands, and dressers weighted down with steel and concrete. They stand as silent sentinels hororing victims of trauma and loss.
Salcedo, who was born in Bogota in 1958, graduated from the University of Bogota in 1980 and later traveled to New York, where she earned a master of fine arts degree at New York University before returning home to teach at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. She is recognized as one of the world's top contemporary artists working today.
“Doris Salcedo is not only one of the most prominent and important artists working in Latin America, but globally. Her work has had — and continues to have — a tremendous influence on generations of younger artists working around the world,” Tobias Ostrander, PAMM’s chief curator, says. “Her works challenge our thinking about art’s ability to create critical dialogues about our contemporary moment and our human capabilities to process violence, loss, and the poetics generated through this process.”
Ostrander says museum visitors will find Salcedo’s work exhibited in a series of specially built gallery spaces that isolate each body of sculptural work. “Together they create a very special environment — a quiet space of contemplation,” he explains.
Salcedo’s show will also include recent works from 2014 and 2015. For instance, there's Disremembered, three shirts made of translucent silk and sharp metal pins. “They float on the wall like magical shadow objects,” the curator says.
Recently, a United Nations study showed that although the war in Syria is the world’s biggest driver of displaced people, Colombia continues its record pace of having the Western Hemisphere’s largest internally displaced population, with more than 137,000 citizens uprooted from their homes last year.
Ostrander says Salcedo’s work captures this condition viscerally. “All of her works address loss and trauma involved with being displaced to varying degrees. One work in particular, La Casa Vuida (The Widowed House), contains architectural elements from a traditional rural home in Colombia."
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One of the artist’s most iconic works was the huge crack in the floor she created for her exhibition Shibboleth at the Tate Modern in London in 2007. The piece garnered the already-famous artist major art-world attention.
At the time, Salcedo remarked that the work represented borders and “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."
And although Salcedo hasn’t jackhammered any whiplash-inducing cracks in the floor at PAMM for her latest exhibit, her arresting collection bores into the skull to remind one that the best way to mourn the silenced victims of oppression is by bearing witness to evil.
Art Talk: Doris Salcedo
In conjunction with the exhibition opening, the artist will present a talk in the PAMM auditorium at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23. Free with general museum admission. The exhibit is on view through July 17. Visit pamm.org.