By Nadia Moreno Moya, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
November 29, 2017 – February 18, 2018
Formas de Libertad (Shapes of Freedom), is the title of the exhibition by Carlos Motta (Bogotá, 1978), currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art of Medellín (MAMM), gathering a selection of projects and works made by this Colombian artist based in New York since the late nineties.
As noted in the presentation text of the gallery, there are two lines of inquiry that have predominated in the work of Carlos Motta: the first one refers to political and social issues in Latin America and Colombia, particularly the depletion of civil rights, the assassination of radical or left-wing liberal politicians, or the political, military and economic interventions of the United States in the region. The second one deals with the repressions of bodies and the occlusions of non-normative sexualities in the discourses of history, Catholicism or science. The latter also involves an interaction between artistic practice and the activism of the LGBTQ+ community.
Although a somewhat chronological explanation of Motta’s trajectory is sketched out in the exhibition’s brochure, the curatorial success of Formas de Libertad resides, precisely, in the fact that this type of narrative is not notably placed on his work. The curatorial and museographic proposal is committed to a dialogue between recent works with earlier ones, and between the two lines of inquiry that have marked his career.
For example, two early works such as Untitled Self-Portraits (1998) —a set of photographs in which the artist self-portrays himself as a subject of ambiguous sexuality—, and Miraculous Fishing —an installation of 495 digitally manipulated photographs of faces of people that “disappeared” or were kidnapped in Colombia and other Latin American countries— share space with Inverted World (2016), a video that is part of the Requiem project (2016) in which Motta critically inquires into the institution of the Catholic Church.
The latter begins with a first close-up of a leg being tied up. Further on, we see that two men are suspending a naked male body with strings —that is bondage artists Stefano Laforgia and Andrea Ropes, with Motta’s body—, forming the image of a cross or an inverted Christ, in what would be the altar of an Italian chapel of the 16th century. Inverted World not only talks about the Catholic Church as an institution that has historically administered sexuality and that repudiates “devious” bodies. It is also a work that undertakes a deconstruction of Catholic iconography as a sublimation machine of sexual desire.
The exhibition also aims to highlight the multidisciplinary nature of the artist’s work, especially by the diversity of means and manners of research he has used. Except for a couple of works, Motta works in long-term research in which the artist uses artistic resources of various kinds such as performances, photographs, installations, audiovisual narratives, posters or publications. It also uses research methodologies related to history, sociology or cultural studies, through which it has consolidated individually, or with collaborators of other disciplines and activists, files of interviews and images that are formally specified in various ways in the museal space.
This is the case of the project Gender Talents (2015), which consists of a video-portrayal file of trans and intersex activists that can be consulted on the gendertalents.info page. For this exhibition, a selection of interviews of trans women from the city of Cali is presented on two television screens installed at a low height, one facing the other. The installation invites us, the viewers, to sit down on a kind of red carpet to hear them up close and at the same level, as if we were really talking to them.
For this sample, wit has also been included the work Towards a Homoerotic Historiography (2014), an installation that simulates an exquisite museological montage with tiny pre-Hispanic human figures. It is a totally blue space, in which small reproductions of pieces of Amerindian cultures representing homoerotic positions are displayed in small glass cabinets. This installation is presented contiguously to Nefandus Trilogy (2013-2014), a series of fiction films that are based on historical references and oral memories about the repression of homosexual relations in the colonial system.
In my opinion, is in the spaces in which these last two projects are exhibited—where the viewer is immersed in a low-lighting area— in which a problem that I consider the most powerful of all the exhibition “comes to light”: the recognition of the colonial condition of sexuality. If in the rest of the exhibition there are projects referring to the social and political issues of Latin America in which evidently the effects of colonial power appear —especially in the order of governance—, in these last two projects, coloniality appears in the discourses and representations about the dissident sexualities of the modern-colonial system in America.
So then, Motta undertakes an interesting vein of historical-artistic inquiry in tune with what Víctor Manuel Rodríguez-Sarmiento —a prominent voice of Cultural Studies in Colombia— has called the coloniality of pleasure. The critical power of the works Towards a Homoerotic Historiography and Nefandus Trilogy lies not so much in them “revealing” the existence of homo-erotic relations in the American world, prior to the arrival of the Spanish empire, but in visual, narratives and spatial strategies of both projects that derange the limits between the historical document, the anthropological artifact, the novel, the documentary and the artistic and political manifestos. In the vicinity of this type of cultural artifacts, a critical strategy emerges that makes visible the sexual dissidence without pretending a truth discourse about it. In this sense, it should also be noted that Towards a Homoerotic Historiography deploys a critical operation to archeology as a science that has been traversed by the colonial outlook and Christian morality.
Although Carlos Motta’s first solo exhibition in Colombia was held more than ten years ago (Ese algo que somos, Alonso Garcés Galería, Bogotá, 2004), it could be said that this artist’s work has been recognized relatively recently in his native country. In Medellín, we had the opportunity to see the Nefandus Trilogy in the MDE15 (Museo de Antioquia, 2015). Recently, Motta has presented several works in other cities of the country, such as Bogotá and Cali, but these have been commissioned works or samples of a specific project. Hence, Formas de Libertad is a significant exhibition, since it is the first individual exhibition of the artist in Colombia in which a review of the anthological nature of his work and career is made.
However, as I see it, the relevance of this exhibition lies more in the place and time it has been presented. Certain political groups in Colombia have undertaken an aggressive campaign to demonize the arguments regarding the difference between sex and gender. After the signing of the first version of the final agreement for the termination of the conflict between the National Government and the former FARC-EP guerrilla, in August of 2016, which recognized the effects of the war on the LGBT+ communities, these politicians did everything that it was within their reach to undermine the gender perspective contained in the initial text of the agreement. We are a few months away from a new presidential election that will define the spirit and sustainability of the commitments of the final agreement. Therefore, the discourses on sexuality will return to the political contest, in an era characterized by the radicalization of reactionary ideological stances to the advances in the liberties and the rights of said communities.
Fortunately, in the midst of this outlook, there is the agency of different social actors that, in one way or another, generate conditions to act and reflect critically on the relationship between sexuality, coloniality and violence. Recently there was an exhibition in Medellín titled 89 noches: descolonizando la sexualidad y la oscuridad (89 Nights: Decolonizing Sexuality and Darkness) (Museum of Antioquia, 2017) that also made me reflect on the relevance of this problem. Of course, one cannot think of overcoming political violence as being separate from the bodies, their sexualities and their genders. I am pleased that the MAMM, in the midst of this juncture, has presented an exhibition that clearly fuels this debate.
 Víctor Manuel Rodríguez-Sarmiento, “La colonialidad del placer: disputas y deslindes” en Errata #12 (enero-junio 2014), Bogotá: IDARTES y FUGA, 96-103. http://revistaerrata.gov.co/contenido/la-colonialidad-del-placer-disputas-y-deslindes
Translation by Alberto Sagrero.