Skip to content



Doris Salcedo

Doris Salcedo at Fondation Beyeler Brings Meaning to Injustice

The Colombian artist’s first solo show in Switzerland

On view at Fondation Beyeler through September 17 is a solo exhibition by the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo. The space marks the first museum in Switzerland to devote a comprehensive solo exhibition to the artist, presenting eight major series of works from different periods of her career. Spanning nearly 14,000 square feet of space, the presentation joins around 100 pieces—with some key works on loan from major international institutions, as well as other rarely-seen pieces from private collections. 

Awareness and research informed by Bogotá

Known to most for her artistic ability to communicate suffering and injustice—from political and sexual violence to war and death—Salcedo was born in the nation’s capital of Bogotá, where she is currently based. Previously described by the artist as the “epicenter of catastrophe,” the city created a sense of awareness within Salcedo that has fueled her work over several decades, tapping into the ideas and emotions triggered by human suffering. 

“Being in Colombia makes you aware of the consequences of violence on a daily basis,” Salcedo shared with Whitewall over Zoom recently. “There’s no escaping what is happening around you, and the horror that takes place is so visible and so prevalent that it’s a catastrophe with no end. It taught me a lot, because in tragedy there are life experiences that are very intense. It’s a condensed capsule of experience. It forced me to be critical—always, always, always.”

To gain a keen understanding of her subjects, she has interviewed countless survivors of political, sexual, and psychological violence, aiming to express their stories through sculpture. “What I’m trying to get out of these pieces is that element that is common in all of us,” she said.

Doris Salcedo

Portrait of Doris Salcedo by David Heald.

Creating validity and respect for victims

Works that lend form to these experiences have since been seen around the globe. Her installation Chairs at the 8th International Istanbul Biennial (2002) included around 1,550 wooden chairs contained between two buildings to address the history of migration and displacement in the Turkish city. Neither (2004) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago featured wire mesh fencing embedded into the wall of an empty room, depicting the isolating and imprisoning nature of detention centers. Shibboleth (2007) showcased a 167-meter-long crack in the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall to communicate the severity of separation and borders, and the societal tendency to forget other people’s traumas. At the Guggenheim Museum, Salcedo’s “Disremembered” series (2014) featured sheer silk-like garments as a tribute to American parents who lost their children to gun violence. “Tabula Rasa” (2018), including a series of sculptures presented at White Cube in London, was inspired by her conversations with survivors of sexual violence at the hands of armed men. 

Most recently, we experienced her installation, Uprooted, a part of the 15th Sharjah Biennial (February 7–June 11)  in the United Arab Emirates. Made up of 804 dead trees and resembling a burned home, it was charred from back to front, emitting an eerie ambiance that posed questions about who was there and where they went. 

Doris Salcedo

Wooden tables, silk, human hair, and thread; 90 × 245 × 80 cm Installation view Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 2015; «la Caixa» Foundation Contemporary Art Collection; photo by Patrizia Tocci; © Doris Salcedo.

On view at Fondation Beyeler

Here at Fondation Beyeler, the large-scale installation Palimpsest (2013-2017), which has remained on view since October 2022, honors migrants and refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas in search of a better life in Europe. For the installation, she spent five years researching the names of victims that appeared on sand-coloured slabs covering a floor of over 4,3000 square feet. 

Another key work in the show, A Flor de Piel (2011–2014), is made of hundreds of rose petals stitched together, forming an ornamental shroud. Spread out in folds over a large area of the floor, its meaning is rooted in a crime committed against a Colombian nurse, whose body, after being tortured to death, was never found. The Spanish phrase “A Flor de Piel” roughly combines references to flowers and skin, commonly used to describe the act of intense emotions becoming visibly exposed to others—such as through a reddening of the skin when feeling overwhelmed. For Salcedo, sewing the petals together was also an important aspect of the work, which visualies and represents the fragility of life.

Doris Salcedo

Wood, concrete, earth, metal and grass, 166 parts; dimensions variable; installation view CAM–Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 2011 collection of the artist; photo by Patrizia Tocci © White Cube; © Doris Salcedo.

In the adjoining rooms, tables from the artist’s “Plegaria Muda” 2008–2010 series are seen. These works tie back to research Saledo conducted in Los Angeles on victims and perpetrators of gang violence who shared socioeconomic circumstances or similarly underprivileged backgrounds. The large-scale installation consisted of coffin-sized tables stacked upside down above others in pairs, separated by a layer of dirt. Sprouts of green grass grow from the soil, seen through the table tops. “Plegaria Muda,” translating to “Silent Prayer,” shines a light on the individual burials and the undeniable nature of life moving on, just as grass may grow over a grave.

Other not-miss installations and series in the show include “Atrabiliarios (1992–2004), “Unland,” (1995–1998), and “Untitled,” (1989–93)—all that pay respect and create validity for absent human life. 

Doris Salcedo

Hydraulic equipment, ground marble, resin, corundum, sand and water; dimensions variable; installation view Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2022; photo by Mark Niedermann; © Doris Salcedo; courtesy of Doris Salcedo and White Cube.

Remaining rooted in material

For all of her creations, material is arguably the most important aspect. “The material itself is essential. I am a sculptor, so I can only try to create an image with materials,” Salcedo added via Zoom. “It is an absolutely essential part of my work. Once I know which materials I’ll use, the piece is clear in my mind. But that’s the most difficult part, trying to find a material that is capable of addressing the experience I’m trying to work in a specific piece. It’s very difficult, and it’s the most challenging aspect of my practice.”

Doris Salcedo

Rose petals and thread; dimensions variable; presented as part of the D.Daskalopoulos Gift to Tate; photo by Patrizia Tocci; © Doris Salcedo.



Louis Fratino Finds Power in Images of What We Love

Louis Fratino spoke with Whitewall about keeping the studio a space free from fear of failure.

The View at The Palm Opens in Dubai with Human-Centric Purpose

Whitewall spoke with John Bricker of Gensler about The View at The Palm in Dubai.

The BMW Neue Klasse Looks to an All-Electric Future

The BMW Neue Klasse is a statement piece for a new era: design language that references classic BMW for its soon-to-be all-electric lineup.

Doris Salcedo: Raising a Voice from the Global South Through Sculpture

Doris Salcedo spoke about how her latest work aims to bring dignity back to those who have been wronged.

Art Basel 2022 in Full Swing at Messe Basel

Art Basel returns to Switzerland in full swing, held at Messe Basel from June 16—19 with 289 presenting galleries from around the world.


Minjung Kim




Go inside the worlds of Art, Fashion, Design and Lifestyle.


Doris Salcedo spoke about how her latest work aims to bring dignity back to those who have been wronged.
Art Basel returns to Switzerland in full swing, held at Messe Basel from June 16—19 with 289 presenting galleries from around the world.


Go inside the worlds
of Art, Fashion, Design,
and Lifestyle.