Left: Plegaria Muda (2008-10)
Right: Atrabiliarios (1992-2004)
Stepping off the elevator onto the fourth floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the visitor is immediately confronted by the Doris Salcedo exhibit (Feb 21 – May 24). Considering that Salcedo’s body of work aims to raise awareness about those affected by political violence in Latin America and around the world, this rather abrupt entry into to the exhibit is quite effective. In order to arrive at the wall text that indicates the official start of the exhibit, one must first weave through several pairs of stacked wooden tables intended to individually represent coffins, and collectively, represent a mass grave. Human hair. Worn shoes. Rusted Doorways. Domestic furniture. These are some of the other materials used by Salcedo throughout her body of work to call attention to the violence, torture, disappearance and death inflicted upon thousands of victims.
Salcedo’s method for repurposing highly recognizable, domestic objects in the majority of her work is an effective choice. With a relatable frame of reference as an entry point, she then catapults the visitor toward a state of contemplation. Our newsfeeds are refreshed daily by acts of violence committed against humanity, and although these crimes may not impact the average Chicagoan in 2015, Salcedo is asking us to stop, pause and reflect. The curatorial aspects of the exhibit seem to further complement and enhance Salcedo’s endeavors. The lighting casts a low-white glow across the walls and floors; this creates a subdued effect throughout the exhibit which aligns to the melancholy subject matter. The structure of the ceilings has been lowered in some rooms, and the spaces are sectioned off to give each art work its own exhibition space. This structural format enables the viewer to become engulfed by each individual work without the interruption of what came before, or what lies ahead. There is an exhibition guide providing thorough explanations of each work, a helpful aid considering the minimal use of wall label text. Overall, the exhibit space adjustments and explanatory tools intended to educate the visitor gesture toward a marked coherence between the artist’s aims and the curatorial production of the exhibit.
Salcedo’s artwork is a response to unthinkable crimes against humanity; her method of mourning those left behind. Although some of the crimes referenced in her works happened many years ago, Salcedo is beckoning us to join her in taking a moment to reflect and honor the many lives lost.