Monday, October 15, 2007


Colombian artist Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth, the new installation in the turbine hall at the Tate Modern gallery in London, has been attracting a good deal of attention. Not least because a couple of people have managed to fall into it. The reason - apart from carelessness and perhaps a bit of contriving - is that it is a crack in the floor, beginning at one end of the installation as a hairline fracture, and opening out into a deep fissure in the middle of the hall. When it is removed it will leave a permanent scar.

A Shibboleth, points out Dean Ayres, is a word or cultural device that acts as a test of membership of a society (from Judges 12:1-6). The exhibition leaflet goes on to comment:

‘The history of racism’, Salcedo writes, ‘runs parallel to the history of modernity, and is its untold dark side’. For hundreds of years, Western ideas of progress and prosperity have been underpinned by colonial exploitation and the withdrawal of basic rights from others. Our own time, Salcedo is keen to remind us, remains defined by the existence of a huge socially excluded underclass, in Western as well as post-colonial societies.

In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.

Dean Ayres comments : "Perhaps Shibboleth will help us think about how racial divisions run through British society, where many people are blinded by the belief that we've grown beyond racism. Or maybe we'll just play around with the crack, and never look to closely at what it signifies."

See also: Crack in Tate Floor Reflects Race, Wealth Divide: Karen Wright (Bloomberg) and Doris Salcedo: A glimpse into the abyss (Telegraph).

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