Subject Area

Art History/Criticism/Conservation


Teresa Margolles, born in Culiacán, Mexico, is a socially engaged conceptual artist whose work examines the causes and consequences of death from the 1990s to the present in her home country. Margolles’s work has been largely discussed in the context of death and violence, and this thesis expands upon this literature by including the concepts of identity and portraiture. By examining how Margolles’s installations, sculptures, and photography use material remains to display identity and memorialize victims, this thesis argues that Margolles not only creates memorials, but also portraits of the fallen victims.

Using the frameworks of portraiture, the index, and materiality in three distinct bodies of work, I demonstrate how Margolles’s use of traces of bodily materials from the nameless unclaimed corpses who appear daily in the Mexico City morgue moves beyond a focus on the corpse itself and in turn gives symbolic voice to the forcibly silenced, ultimately addressing the larger social implications of the corpse. This thesis demonstrates both that the impact of Teresa Margolles’s work goes beyond “corpse art” as well as the possibilities of portraiture in contemporary art. The artist seeks to bring to public awareness the sociopolitical issues in Mexico by creating conceptual portraits that do not simply represent the body, but activate its material remains.

Degree Date

Spring 5-18-2019

Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Anna Lovatt

Second Advisor

Roberto Conduru

Third Advisor

Amy Freund

Number of Pages




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