In his first solo gallery exhibition in New York where he lives and works, Carlos Motta offers his audience a compact mid-career survey, swiftly orchestrating various bodies of work created between as early as 1998 and the present. Deviations— on view at P.P.O.W Gallery where Motta is now represented alongside a roster of celebrated peers including Martin Wong, David Wojnarowicz and Carolee Schneemann—delivers one rare example of the fine marriage between post-colonial anthropology and subtle contemporary aesthetic, tightly weaving various fictional and factual narratives under one roof.
“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own” declares Chinua Achebe in his 1958 magnum opus Things Fall Apart, referring to the retelling of suppressed voices in subaltern cultures and individuals that were minimized into void bodies. Motta there for facilitates his meticulous approach for his case study to elevate physically and emotionally restrained stories within such micronized histories. Aligning with his multidisciplinary and intertextual approach to his subject matter is his expansive use of sculpting methods: rapidly improving 3-D print technology surprisingly appears alongside rustic looking micro-sized replicas of Pre-Columbian figurines.
Greeting the visitors upon entry into the dimly lit gallery space is Hermaphrodite(8), a sandstone 3-D print of Martina who is one of two protagonists in single channel film Deseos / رغبات that takes the center stage at the gallery’s first room. The thirty-two minute long video voices the letters exchanged over the years between Martina, a Colombian who was molested and contested for being a hermaphrodite during the late colonial era, and Nour, a Lebanese lesbian woman who ends up marrying her lover’s brother in order to be close to her, calmly narrating the intrusion of the public into the private. Martina’s painfully illustrated descriptions of men’s inquisitive hands inspecting her entire body find their responses in the words of Nour who wistfully recounts the burden of her ‘womanly’ duties towards her new husband while she yearns for Aisha. “There are many prisons in this world,” writes Nour living in Ottoman-ruled Beirut in one of her letters to Martina. The questions regarding how accurate or fictional these two tales actually are evaporated while the audience begins to grasp their timeless and placeless core narratives. Humankind’s inherent instinct to destroy and govern blankets the lives of those that are subdued and disallowed.
Towards a Homoerotic Historiography promises an ambitious display of minuscule figurines perched inside cube-shaped niches on the walls painted in a mellow tone of blue. Each tiny sculpture, possessing archeological attributes, sits behind its Plexiglass vitrine mostly juxtaposing persons engaging in male to male sexual acts ranging from familiar to ritualistic. Made out of silver washed in gold or tumbaga, these salvaged looking figurines, unlike the divine precision of the 3-D printed statuette at the entrance, blatantly carry traces of countless muted tales, experiences and encounters. Created based on pre-colonialism era sculptures of indigenous people in the Americas, Motta’s analytic approach to his concept delivers an untold version to the dominantly known story of the white man building his churches where it ‘lacks’ while reassuring the elimination of unproductive sexual intercourse. Motta’s declaration reminds Western ethnocentrism of art history what Achebe’s Things Fall Apart did to literature after Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
The exhibition is on view at P.P.O.W Gallery through May 21, 2016.
All images are the Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York.
Writing by Osman Can Yerebakan