Plegaria Muda, which translates loosely to “silent prayer,” began with Salcedo’s research into gang violence in Los Angeles. The artist noted how victims and perpetrators of gang violence often share socioeconomic circumstances that lead to conditions of increased violence. They are often viewed as lesser in the eyes of broader society, resulting in a lack of empathy for the loss of their individual lives. The work was also made in response to Salcedo’s experience of mass graves that she visited with grieving mothers in Colombia, who were searching for their missing sons.
Each sculpture is composed of two hand-crafted tables, which approximate the size and shape of a human coffin. One table is inverted upon the other, with live grass growing from an earthlike layer in between. The installation counters the anonymity of victims in mass graves with hand-wrought, unique works, and asserts the importance of each individual’s proper burial—whether in the United States, Colombia, or elsewhere. For Salcedo, the individual blades of grass evoke a sense of optimism: “I hope that, in spite of everything, life might prevail, even in difficult conditions . . . as it does in Plegaria Muda.”
“We had to test many, many things: What was the best soil to use, what kind of grass seeds, how do you look after the grass as the exhibition is going, and how to organize a schedule for planting and assembling the pieces for the installation. And also working on the boards and making sure that the space that the grass needs to pass through the board is there. We tried many different kinds of grass seeds. We tried different techniques for planting. We tried many ways of lighting the grass. How many hours does it need? When is good to trim it? When shouldn’t you touch it? How often do you have to water it? It was a long process.”
“The installation at Gulbenkian in Lisbon was the largest. It was 160 pieces. Each piece is composed of two pieces and a section of soil between them. The piece that goes on top is an upside-down table and inside the frame of that table there are sprouts of grass.”
“It always depends on the museum, on the place where it’s being installed, because the conditions vary regarding light and humidity. That’s how we calculate how often it has to be trimmed and how many times it has to be watered during the installation.”