DE 08/10/2019 - 10/11/2019 A



Vermelho presents, from October 8th to November 10th, CARLOS MOTTA: WE THE ENEMY, the artist's first solo exhibition in Brazil.

Through video, photographs, sculptures, and installations, Carlos Motta critically engages and documents the social conditions and the historical and present-day political struggles of sexual, gender and ethnic minorities in order to challenge dominant and normative discourses through visibility and self-representation.


Among the main features of Carlos Motta's work is the narration of historically suppressed stories of sexual-and-gender different individuals and communities, in an attempt to produce counter-narratives that acknowledge non-hegemonic accounts of history. In WE THE ENEMY, Motta contrasts stories of historical and contemporary sexual and gender repression to defy conventions of story-telling, its terms and forms of representation, and the writing of history.

Corpo Fechado: The Devil’s Work

This 2018 film tells the story of José Francisco Pereira, a man who was kidnapped and sold into enslavement in the 18th Century. Pereira was taken from Uidá (now Benin, in West Africa) to Pernambuco, Brazil, where he performed syncretic practices in order to survive. Sold to a slaveholder in Portugal, Pereira was caught making amulets –bolsas de mandinga – for his fellows enslaved men and women. In 1731 Pereira was tried by the Lisbon Inquisition for sorcery. In addition, Pereira confessed to having made pacts and copulating with a male demon, and was thus also sentenced for sodomy. José Francisco Pereira was then condemned to be an enslaved rower on a galley ship, sent into exile, and was forever banned from Lisbon.

The film’s script draws from Pereira's trial documents, Saint Peter Damian’s Letter 31 – The Book of Gomorrah, and Walter Benjamin's On the Concept of History, in order to tell the story. Written by the Italian reformist monk Saint Peter Damian in the 11th century, Letter 31 includes the earliest and most extensive damning treatment on pederasty and homoerotic practices. As art historian Jack McGrath writes in his essay for Conatus, a 2019 solo exhibition by Motta in New York, “the discourse of the sodomite also played a central role in European colonialism, a theme Motta has extensively explored in earlier video works such as Nefandus Trilogy (2013) and the installation Towards a Homoerotic Historiography (2014), among others.”

On the Concept of History is comprised of 18 theses in which Walter Benjamin criticially exposes the conventions of historicism. Benjamin proposes an open-ended approach to history, proposing the construction of different outcomes for the future through the action of the defeated, therefore opposing the idea that the future is the result of both historical evolution and economic and scientific progress. According to McGrath, “in Corpo Fechado, Pereira incarnates Benjamin’s Angel of History, a seraph caught in a storm blowing from Paradise, propelled inexorably into the future yet facing backward, doomed to see only the wreckage of the past. […] Motta’s film brings together little-known figures like Pereira and Damian, retrieved from archives of a distant past, for a story of migration, race, sexuality, law, and belief, whose contemporary urgency reframes conditions of the present.”

I Mark My Presence with My Own Beliefs – An Interview with Paulo Pascoal (2019)

This video presents an interview with Paulo Pascoal, the actor who plays José Francisco Pereira in Corpo Fechado. Pascoal is a well-known actor in his home country of Angola, who after coming out as a gay during a TEDxLuanda talk, endured death threats, which lead him to migrate to Portugal. In Lisbon, where he currently resides, Pascoal finds himself trapped in a sort of immigration limbo, unable to re-enter Portugal should he ever leave. As McGrath wrote, “the biography of the actor therefore resonates with the life of his character, mutatis mutandis, crisscrossing oceans of both water and time in spectral fulfillment of Benjamin’s historical method”.

Corpo fechado: Portrait of José Francisco Pedroso carrying his “bolsa de mandinga”

The diptych of portraits of José Francisco Pedroso (2019) – an African enslaved man who, along with José Francisco Pereira, crafted and distributed bolsas de mandinga– is part of the series of contextual works to Corpo Fechado: The Devil’s Work. Carlos Motta collaborated with Portuguese-Guinean actor Welket Bungué to create this portrait, where Bungué's wears a bolsa de mandiga offered to him by his own mother.

Corpo Fechado

Corpo Fechado (2019) is comprised of a series of vintage whips (bought by Motta from obscure sellers on E-Bay) cast in bronze and sculpted in such way that their motions appear as a frozen instant. These pieces are also part of the series of sculptural and photographic objects that relate to Corpo Fechado: The Devil’s Work. Like in the film, there is a reversal on the handling of the whip as it is wielded by José Francisco Pereira, an oppressed man who now seizes his own power. These tools for punishment are inverted in these works, drawing near to BDSM practices where pleasure and pain converge, and where relations of power and submission are nothing but consensual.

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark / For the forward pathway had been lost
Senhor morto

This series of photographs present a hooded figure handling snakes. Like the sculptural whips in Corpo Fechado, the images refer to gay fetish practices associated with “sexual deviance.” As Jack McGrath has phrased, “Sleek and louche and dark and sly, the shades in Motta’s photographs are arrayed around a dead lord, Senhor Morto, submerged at center. Motta created the bronze effigy in the image of an 18th century wooden sculpture in São Paulo, an ecclesiastical object crafted by artisans working in colonial subjection. As an artifact of exploitation, the piece indicts the art and religion that assisted the colonial system. As Benjamin wrote in On the Concept of History, 'There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism'.”


WE THE ENEMY (2019) is comprised of a set of 40 bronze sculptures based on representations of the devil drawn from art history: historical paintings that portray Satan in hell, drawings, illustrations, and sculptures that represent evil embodied. Each figure defies normative moral standards of beauty, respectability, and behavior. Among this army of demons, there are characters who suggest sexual perversion – as typified by traditional catholic imagery.

SPIT! (Sodomite, Inverts, Perverts Together!)

SPIT! (Sodomite, Inverts, Perverts Together!) is a collective formed in 2017 by Carlos Motta, writer John Arthur Peetz, and artist Carlos Maria Romero. SPIT! wrote a series of queer manifestos that were initially performed at Frieze projects, London. In the 2019 video, Greek artist Despina Zacharopoulos performs WE THE ENEMY, a summary of derogatory slangs and insults to queer people. Spoken by Zacharopoulos with defiant pride, these terms are re-appropriated becoming watchwords or a kind of summoning of the powerless.

Corpo Fechado

Another one of the pieces from Corpo Fechado's cycle, is a vintage horse hair whip, framed as a fetishist relic. The whip’s presentation invokes the frames used by David Wojnarowicz's in his Sex Series. The work of this multitasking artist, whose activism and explicit political content around social and legal inequities, and in the response to the AIDS epidemic, has been influential to Motta.

Self-Portrait with Whip (after Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portrait with Whip, 1978)

Carlos Motta re-enacts Robert Mapplethorpe's infamous self-portrait, in which the artist is pictured with a whip up his anus, like an animal tail. In Motta's version, the image is darkened almost to invisibility, like a dark mirror, both defying the viewers' gaze and reflecting them on its surface.

Untitled Self-Portrait # 3

The mirror is also present in Untitled Self-Portrait # 3,a photograph where Motta depicts himself simultaneously mournful and resolute, showing a clenched resilient fist, and resting his wistful head on a mirrored surface. As Jack McGrath warns: “Sometimes to gaze into a mirror is to see the malefactors of history leering back out, and real progress requires the courage to criticize even oneself.”

Façade: Shapes of Freedom: Triangle

In its eighth presentation, this mural piece on the façade of the gallery, examines the political developments of sexual and gender activism. Shapes of Freedom revisits the history of the pink triangle and other sexual diversity symbols. To highlight the importance of collective organizing to achieve social freedom. The mural is accompanied by a historical timeline listing important moments of LGBTQI + history in Brazil and abroad, developed in collaboration with Guilherme Altmayer.

Sala Antonio: Legacy

This video piece presents a 30-minute endurance performance made by Carlos Motta for the camera. Legacy shows the artist looking straight at the camera as he wears a dental gag, while he tries to read out a timeline of HIV/AIDS, from 1908 to 2019, dictated to him by American radio broadcaster Ari Shapiro. Unable to speak clearly, struggling to remember the lines and in pain, the artist gradually and visibly exhausts himself. This research was made in collaboration with Ted Kerr.

Carlos Motta was the subject of the survey exhibitions: Carlos Motta. Formas de libertad at Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (MAMM), Colombia (2017) which traveled to Matucana100, Santiago, Chile (2018); and Carlos Motta: For Democracy There Must Be Love at Röda Sten Konsthall, Gothenburg, Sweden (2015). His solo exhibitions at international museums include, The Crossing (2017), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Histories for the Future (2016), Pérez Art Museum (PAMM), Miami; Réquiem (2016), Museo de Arte Latinoamericano the Buenos Aires (MALBA) (2016); Patriots, Citizens, Lovers… (2015), PinchukArtCentre, Kiev; Gender Talents: A Special Address (2013), Tate Modern, London; La forma de la libertad (2013), Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Mexico; We Who Feel Differently (2012), New Museum, New York; Brief History (2009), MoMA/PS1, New York; and The Good Life (2008), Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Philadelphia; among others.

He has participated in the Incerteza Viva, 32nd Bienal de São Paulo (2016); A Story Within A Story, Göteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art (2015); Burning Down the House, X Gwangju Biennale (2014); and Le spectacle du quotidian, X Lyon Biennale (2010). His films have been screened at the Rotterdam Film Festival (2016, 2010); Toronto International Film Festival (2013); and Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur (2016); among many others.

Motta won the Vilcek Foundation’s Prize for Creative Promise (2017); the PinchukArtCentre’s Future Generation Art Prize (2014); a Guggenheim Fellowship (2008); and has received grants from The Art Matters Foundation (2008), The New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) (2010); The Creative Capital Foundation; and The Kindle Project (2012).

His work is in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), New York; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Barcelona (MACBA); Museu Fundaçao Serralves, Porto; and Museo de Arte de Banco de la República, Bogotá; among many other institutional, corporate, and private collections.

Carlos Motta is a graduate of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (WISP), New York; he holds a Master in Fine Arts (MFA) from The Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NewYork; and a Bachelor in Fine Arts (BFA) from The School of Visual Arts (SVA), New York. Motta was appointed Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Pratt University’s Fine Arts Department in 2019.


Carlos Motta – WE THE ENEMY
Carlos Motta – Shapes of Freedom: Triangle
Carlos Motta – Legacy

OPENING: October 8th , 8PM to 11PM.
DATES: October 8th to November 10th 2019

LOCATION: Vermelho
Rua Minas Gerais, 350 _ 01244-010 _ São Paulo, SP
phone: +55 11 3138 1520

FURTHER INFORMATION: [email protected]