For over twenty-five years, Teresa Margolles (b. 1963, Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico) has investigated the social and aesthetic dimensions of conflict, creating sculptural installations, photographs, films, and performances imbued with material traces of death. The artist’s work most often incorporates physical remnants of violent crimes resulting from political corruption and social exclusion—blood-stained sheets, glass shards from shattered windshields, bullet-ridden walls, or used surgical threads—whose victims are otherwise rendered invisible. Tapping into the restrained sensibilities of conceptualism and minimalism, Margolles inserts post-mortem matter typically obscured from public consciousness into the architectures of civic and cultural institutions. Filling a white-cube gallery space with a dense fog of vaporized water previously used to wash corpses, for example, or mounting a flag onto the facade of the Venice Biennale’s Palazzo Rota-Ivancich splattered with blood from homicides near the Mexico-U.S. border, Margolles transgresses normative boundaries to command attention and invoke accountability.
Trained as a forensic pathologist, Teresa Margolles was employed in the early 1990’s as a mortician in Mexico City. Her work during that time, which she produced as a member of the artist collective SEMEFO and also independently, stemmed from her proximity to nameless victims of drug-trafficking violence whose unidentifiable bodies passed in numbers through the morgue, largely regarded as “collateral damage.” Maintaining that there is much to be learned about society from the unseen treatment of cadavers within institutional margins, during this period Margolles created public performances, sculptural objects, and photographic series making the “life of the corpse” radically visible in public space. Branching out from the context of Mexico to other sites of conflict in Latin America and overseas, her strategy continues to expose the social and economic structures that enable such atrocities and exclude them from the social imaginary.
Margolles engages in fieldwork-driven artmaking in the streets of border cities in northern Mexico, such as Ciudad Juárez, whose location in economic relationship to the United States has ushered in decades of conflict due to organized crime. Working closely with communities who are precluded from access to systems of social care, Margolles explores the relationship between violence and marginality, especially in light of gender. Her methodical research develops into object-based interventions: photographs of trans sex workers, many of whom are now dead, standing in the ruins of demolished nightclubs where they once worked; or posters with the faces of missing women affixed to glass panels that rattle to the sound of a train carrying manufactured goods from Juárez to El Paso. Exhibited internationally, her works underscore the influences of global trade and economic policy on conflict in Latin America.
In response to the 975 homicides that took place in Los Angeles, U.S. between January 2015 and July 2016, Margolles poured water onto the ground in nearly one hundred locations where lives were lost due to violent crime. The water was then collected into hundreds of meticulously-labeled bottles and ultimately used to mix concrete poured to form a monumental sculpture that cast shade in Echo Park.
Teresa Margolles has exhibited extensively for more than two decades, both in Latin America and abroad. Recent solo exhibitions include En la Herida, Kunsthalle Krems, Krems, Austria (2019); You fall in line or they put you in line (Te alineas o te alineamos), BPS22 Musée d'art de la Province de Hainaut, Charleroi, Belgium (2019); LA CARNE MUERTA NUNCA SE ABRIGA, Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago, Chile (2019); Estorbo, Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Colombia (2019); Sutura, Francuski Paviljon, Zagreb, Croatia, which traveled to daadgalerie, Berlin, Germany (2018); A new work by Teresa Margolles, Witte de With, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2018); Ya Basta Hijos de Puta, PAC Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy (2018); Mundos, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada (2017); Teresa Margolles: 45 Cuerpos, Museo de la Ciudad de Querétaro, Mexico (2016); We Have a Common Thread, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY, which traveled to Colby Museum of Art, Waterville, ME and Rubin Gallery, The University of Texas at El Paso, TX (2015); Enquanto for Necessário (As Long as it is Needed), Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife, Brazil (2014); El Testigo, Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid, Spain (2014); La Promesa, Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City, Mexico (2012); and Frontera, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany, which traveled to Museion, Bolzano, Italy (2010).
Margolles has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Artes Mundi Prize and the Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development in 2012. She represented Mexico at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 with What Else Could We Talk About? and received a special jury mention for her work at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. Margolles has participated in many other biennials including Imagined Communities, 21st Sesc_Videobrasil Contemporary Art Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil (2019); Eldorado, 5th lille3000, Lille, France (2019); Frestas Trienal de Artes: Entre Pós-Verdades e Acontecimentos, Sesc Sorocaba, São Paulo, Brasil (2017); Woman Biennial - Biennale Donna: SILENCIO VIVO. Artists from Latin America, PAC Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Ferrara, Italy (2016); IV Trienal Poli/Gráfica, Antiguo Arsenal de la Marina Española, San Juan, Puerto Rico (2015); 7th Berlin Biennale, Berlin, Germany (2012); Manifesta 11: What People Do For Money, Zurich, Switzerland (2011); The Living Currency, 5th Berlin Biennial, Berlin, Germany (2010); and The Rest of Now, Manifesta 7, Ex-Alumix, Bolzano, Italy (2008).
Her work is held in the permanent collections of major institutions worldwide, including Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Torino, Italy; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Colección Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Mostoles, Madrid, Spain; Colección Fundación ARCO, Madrid, Spain; Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA; Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; FRAC Lorraine, Metz, France; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland; Colección Jumex, Mexico City, Mexico; Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montreal, Canada; Museion Museo d’arte moderna e contemporanea, Bolzano, Italy; Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico; Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany; Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany; Pérez Art Museum, Miami, FL; Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ; Tate Modern, London, UK and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX.