Her work is profoundly affected by the unsettled political situation in her country. Her sculpture is made in response to testimony from friends and relatives of victims killed during her lifetime and often takes the form of reconfigured pieces of household furniture.
Transforming objects that should be familiar and comforting into things of horror, Salcedo draws attention to the grisly facts that underpin everyday existence in her society.
The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with a meaning they have acquired in the practice of everyday life. Used materials are profoundly human; they all bespeak the presence of a human being … The handling of materials in each piece is the result of a specific act, related to the event I am working on. It is an act of everyday life that gives shape to the piece. In some cases it is a hopeless act of mourning … The processes go beyond me, beyond my very limited capacity, whether because one single person couldn’t possibly have made the work (Unland, 1995-8), or because of the brutality and massiveness of the act (untitled furniture sculptures, 1995-8) … [In] the situation in which I live … you can see advanced technology existing side by side with extreme forms of underdevelopment. Oppositions of this kind are part of my life … reality is always disrupted, always severed … it is not simply a mixture but a cruel juxtaposition of things striving violently to manifest themselves simultaneously … The handmade element of the work marks not merely an absence of industrial values, but also a wholehearted rejection of rationalism. Paradoxically war is the maximum expression both of industrialism and of its destruction … I’m interested in the notion of the artist as a thinker attuned to every change in society but at the same time producing art that is irreducible to psychological or sociological explanations.
(Quoted in Basualdo, pp.21-3.)