Her early sculptures and installations, such as La Casa Viuda (1992-1995), combined domestic furniture with textiles and clothing. Salcedo derived her materials from research into Colombia’s recent political history, so these belongings, imbued with the patina of use, were directly linked to personal and political tragedy. During the past few years, Salcedo’s work has become increasingly installation-based, using the gallery spaces or unusual locations to create vertiginous environments charged with politics and history. Noviembre 6 y 7 (2002) is a work commemorating the seventeenth anniversary of the violent seizing of the Supreme Court, Bogotá on 6 and 7 November, 1985. Salcedo sited the work in the new Palace of Justice where, over the course of 53 hours (the duration of the original siege), wooden chairs were slowly lowered against the façade of the building from different points on its roof, creating “an act of memory” in order to re-inhabit this space of forgetting.
In 2003, in Istanbul, she made an installation in an unremarkable street comprising 1,600 wooden chairs stacked precariously in the space between two buildings. In 2005, at the Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Salcedo reworked one of the institution’s major rooms by extending the existing majestic, vaulted brick ceiling of the gallery. Subtly transforming the existing space, Abyss evoked thoughts of incarceration and entombment. For her 2007 Unilever commission at Tate Modern, Salcedo created Shibboleth, a chasm running the length of the Turbine Hall that represented exclusion, separation and otherness. Plegaria Muda is a recent body of work, comprising numerous sculptural objects that sprout delicate blades of grass. Referencing the body, with their coffin-like proportions, the work alludes to an abandoned graveyard and was inspired, in part, by the thousands of missing civilians in Colombia, who are often killed and passed off as guerrilla causalities. The work was first presented at MUAC, Mexico and toured to Sweden, Lisbon, Rome, London and Brazil from 2010-2013.
Following the negative result of a referendum in Colombia calling for an end to nearly sixty years of civil war, Salcedo created Sumando Ausencias (2016) in collaboration with the Museo de la Universidad Nacional. After several years of negotiation, a small majority of the Colombian public rejected the final peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The title is loosely translated as ‘adding absence’, with the work taking the form of a banner or ‘shroud’ utilizing 7, 000m of fabric onto which was written in ash the names of just 7% of the victims of the ongoing conflict. To quote Salcedo, ‘the names are poorly written, almost erased, because we are already forgetting these violent deaths’. Congregating in the main square in Bogota – the Plaza Bolivar – Salcedo worked with a number of volunteers over a period of 12 hours to stitch the banners together, creating 11, 000m of stitches in order to cover the entire Plaza.