Doris Salcedo of Colombia has won the first Nasher Prize, an international award recognizing contributions to sculpture. For decades, Salcedo has used everyday objects — including chairs and clothing — to create social commentary.
In 2002, Doris Salcedo suspended hundreds of chairs along the walls of Bogota’s Palace of Justice, as part of her installation Noviembre 6 y 7. It was a nod to when a group of Colombian rebels violently seized the Supreme Court, killing dozens.
Salcedo says she wants her work to fill the “vacuum generated by forgetfulness.”
“This forgetfulness is what I think is [what] I hope to capture in these pieces,” she says in a video accepting the award. “The prize helps to acknowledge that in the midst of violence, in the midst of political conflict, there is room for art, there is room for thought.”
That mindset is what caught the eye of British sculptor Phyllida Barlow, one of the jurors who helped select Salcedo. Barlow recalls one of Salcedo’s installations at the Tate Modern in London, in which she made a giant fissure in the floor. It was more than 500 feet long and three feet deep in some places, and it was meant to mimic a border — a commentary on immigration.
“People would kneel down and put their hands in these cracks and over time, things collected in these cracks, which I thought was absolutely fantastic,” Barlow says. One woman even lost a bracelet in that crack and was never able to retrieve it. “I think there was something about that inquisitiveness of people as well — that’s… an intriguing lure of her work.”
Salcedo’s large-scale, incisive symbolism is what the Nasher Sculpture Center is hoping to encourage with its prize.
“One of the things that seems so characteristic of sculpture in our time is that it is, in fact, so many different things,” says Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center. He says sculpture today isn’t just made from bronze and metal; it can be massive installations of light or sound, and it can address the social issues of our day.
One of those social themes that Salcedo’s work regularly tackles: the mourning of violent deaths. In 2011, she wanted to honor a Colombian nurse who was kidnapped and tortured to death, so she preserved and stitched together hundreds of rose petals. What began as a flower offering turned into something much more sinister: Imagine a floor rug that looks like raw skin.
“If you want to think about what is the role and what can be the role of sculpture in society and culture, I don’t think you can make a better or more powerful choice than Doris Salcedo,” Strick says.
Salcedo will receive a $100,000 prize and will visit Dallas for a lecture in April 2016.
“Doris Salcedo has created a body of work that is both aesthetically striking and politically resonant,” said Nasher Sculpture Center Director Jeremy Strick. “With this subtle and deeply evocative work, she has bravely challenged us to consider more fully the deep connections between place, history and objects that carry the weight of collective memory, suggesting avenues of thinking that tie together object-making and potent social action.”
Mourning has been a consistent theme for Salcedo. She often uses ordinary objects – chairs, tables, beds – in her pieces. From the Nasher’s description of her work:
The transformations she effects on them frequently arise from her use of techniques and processes with connections to the care and tending of bodies alive and dead: wrapping, binding, encasing, cutting, and stitching. Some of her early sculptures were created from altered hospital furniture, such as bedframes, into which she also incorporated small plastic baby dolls, dipped in wax and bound to the joints of the sculpture with animal fiber; while making these works, Salcedo was thinking of the impoverished boys taken by drug cartels and forced to become assassins, yet the results neither narrate nor preach.
A major retrospective of her work is on view through Oct. 12 at the Guggenheim in New York.
How she was chosen
The 7 jurors who selected Salcedo include Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate UK; artist Phyllida Barlow, whose work was recently shown – and acquired by – the Nasher; and Steven Nash, founding director of the Nasher.
How the Nasher will celebrate
The Nasher Sculpture Center conceived the award to recognize artists who’ve made a significant contribution to the art form, and to elevate the dialogue around it. To that end, the Nasher Prize is sponsoring a panel discussion in London on Oct. 11 called Why Sculpture Now?, bringing Salcedo to Dallas on April 1 to talk at Booker T. Washington high school and sponsoring a gala to support the prize on April 2. The museum will be free on April 2-3 with special activities related to the prize and Salcedo.