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The central theme of Teresa Margolles’s artistic work is death. The organized drug war in her homeland of Mexico, the associated omnipresence of violence and its impact on society are the conditions under which Margolles processes and works against the anonymization of death and the disappearance of bodies by relentlessly confronting us with what the people have left behind. The artist, born in Culiacán in 1963, became known for her monochrome canvases, whose ostensibly abstract painterly aesthetic concealed the fact that they were saturated with the blood of people killed on the streets. And it is only with this knowledge that her radical realism becomes apparent. The canvas is both the physical support for blood and dirt and the transmitter of an actual, horrific history. The artist, who has worked in forensic medicine, obtains her materials mostly from morgues or directly from crime scenes. The resulting works are formally related to the Minimal Art canon, but “move” with substances like blood, body fat, or water used for washing corpses, causing “viewers” to lose their typically distanced viewpoint. With Teresa Margolles, the work of art is by no means autonomous; rather, it is revealing evidence of unbearable social circumstances.

In recent years, she has focused primarily on violence against women in Latin America. In particular, the city of Ciudad Juárez, on the northern border of Mexico, has become tragically famous the past twenty years for countless so-called “femicides,” brutal murders of women, and the impunity of their murderers. But socially marginalized groups are also threatened by violence and are systematically displaced from the city center through the destruction of the environments where they live. For a long time, Margolles worked closely with transgender sex workers who are frequently the victims of discrimination and hate killings. For the photo series Pista de Baile (2015), Margolles portrayed transgender sex workers standing among the ruins of nightclub dance floors that had been destroyed. One of these women, Karla, with whom Margolles wanted to organize a game of poker with a sex worker from Switzerland for Manifesta 11, was murdered at the end of 2015.

La Sombra Bolivia (2015), created for the Biennale of La Paz, Bolivia, consisted of a canopy in public space, similar to ones that provide shade for market stands. A sheet was stretched across a metal frame, 1.70 m high and 1.90 wide, casting a rectangular shadow on the cobbles. The fabric came from the morgue of La Paz and had been used to wrap the corpse of a recently murdered woman. According to the National Statistical Institute, 87% of all women in Bolivia experience physical violence.

Blood, shadows, or fragments of violently destroyed buildings function in Margolles’s work as sensors that the artist uses to provide countless victims a voice and a visibility.

Text: Eva Scharrer


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