By Sonia Corrêa
Searching for works of art that would reflect the dystopian state of world affairs in January 2017, I recalled walking over the (already filled) crack wide opened by Doris Salcedo, in 2007, on the ground floor of the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern, in London. Every time I crossed the hall I avoided stepping on the crack because it felt like inflicting pain on a barely healed scar. I had seen few Salcedo’s works before, but had never heard of Shibboleth.
Violence, forced limits and drastic separations are central to Salcedo’s aesthetic investigations. Originally inspired by decades of armed conflict in Colombia, her country of origin, her installations also dialogue with the 2000’s world landscape increasingly traversed by sharp cracks: the new walls being built, the old open borders being closed. The name itself of the Tate Modern intervention is intrinsic to its troubling contemporary meaning. As precisely recovered by a Jon Henley’s article published by The Guardian when the exhibition was opened, ‘shibboleth’ is:
…’a word used as a test for detecting people from another district or country by their pronunciation; a word or a sound very difficult for foreigners to pronounce correctly’. The Old Testament relates that the Ephraimites were trying to cross the river Jordan when they were caught by their sworn enemies the Gileadites, who forced them all to say the word “shibboleth”. Since the unfortunate Ephraimites’ dialect did not include the sound “sh”, this allowed the Gileadites to identify and slaughter large numbers of Ephraimites. So a shibboleth is “a token of power: the power to judge and kill.
Salcedo’s metaphor is multipronged. It illuminates the historical depth of state violence at borders. It reminds us how this violence is ingrained in the Biblical narrative so often conjured these days — in particular in the United States – as the ‘only trustful source of truth and justice’. In physically evokes the lethality of frontiers converted into sudden cracks, Shibboleth was also premonitory of the troubling intersections between gender, sexuality and border control that would materialize in the years to come. This is so because an analogy can be made between the biblical shibboleth rule and the tests applied to Muslim migrants in Europe, from the lat 2000’s onward, to measure their attitudes in relation to women’s and LGBT rights as a criteria for country admission. As observed by various feminist and queer critiques, these tests are one strong symptom of how the premises of gender and sexuality democracy are cynically used by states to justify Islamophobia and borders’ closure.  It is not difficult to grasp why Salcedo’s installation speaks directly to world conditions in January 2017. The Executive Order issued by the Trump administration to close the US borders includes a paragraph that can be portrayed as a gender and sexuality shibboleth:
… In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation. 
To learn more about Doris Salcedo’s work.
 See, Dhawan, Nikita “Homonationalism and State-phobia: The post-colonial predicament of queering modernity. In Maria Amelia Viteri and Manuela Picq (ed) Queering Paradigms V- Queering Narratives of Modernity. Peter Lang, Oxford (2015)