‘We the Enemy’

Carlos Motta on the LGBTQIA+ experience

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In a video at the entrance of the gallery, an individual verbally lists slurs commonly directed toward the LGBTQIA+ community. Photo by Brandon Saglam

Content warning: This article contains offensive language.

 I walk into a dimly lit room and approach a video of a woman sporting a buzz cut and reciting homophobic slurs. Her facial expressions remain stiff and unphased as she delivers each insult. It feels as if her eyes are puncturing me — peering into my soul as her words pierce like needles.

“The femme. The gaylords. The masc for mascs. The tranny chasers. The homos.”

This is Carlos Motta’s “We the Enemy’’ exhibition at the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery. Motta’s elucidation of the daily challenges facing members of the LGBTQIA+ community will be on display until March 14.

“I like to look at things from different angles, to approach histories that we may take for granted as being objective or truthful or mainstream and understand that all of those things have been fabricated by social scientific disciplines or by culture,” Motta said. “I’m interested in breaking those barriers and thinking about providing alternative narratives to history that may allow you to see things differently.”

Motta uses his passion for filmography to give voice to underrepresented queer folks living in an oppressive political climate. His main piece, a 24-minute video titled “Corpo Fechado: The Devil’s Work,” travels back to the 18th century and tells the story of an enslaved man, José Francisco Pereira, who was persecuted for practicing sodomy.

Artist Carlos Motta pictured in front of one of his pieces. Photo by Brandon Saglam

Whitewashed history often eclipses stories of different LGBTQIA+ experiences, so Motta digs deep in order to reveal unconsidered perspectives. 

“He is also able to incorporate some humor. It’s also very politically driven,” said Claire Apana, a volunteer at the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery. “It’s interesting to see these people give voice to other humans on earth who are often marginalized.” 

Motta stirs his audience with dingy lighting and hair-raising images — extreme close-up shots of a needle puncturing skin and a reddened, scarred back from slave owner abuse. The pieces are visceral and intense, exemplifying the unjust treatment of LGBTQIA+ folks. Visitors can’t help but feel some of this pain.  

“It’s really relevant for our students,” said gallery director Shelby Graham. “We want all of our shows to be that way. […] Carlos Motta really tackles this compelling subject of our day that we need to address.”

Toward the end of “Corpo Fechado: The Devil’s Work,” Angolan actor Paulo Pascoal tells his own story of being persecuted for his sexuality. After publicly coming out as homosexual, Pascoal’s home country exiled him.

Although centuries apart, the stories of the two men join together as current immigration politics intersect with histories of colonialism and theological values. 

Motta and Sesnon Gallery director Shelby Graham watch “Corpo Fechado: The Devil’s Work.” The frame featured from the video is the centerpiece for the promotional posters for the exhibition. Photo by Brandon Saglam

Motta not only delves into the long history of queer folks struggling with their identities under oppressive agendas, he also explores the lasting impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

In a 27-minute video, Motta wears metal retractors in his mouth while U.S. radio broadcaster Ari Shapiro recites moments in history when medical and government institutions neglected ailing LGBTQIA+ people, leaving them to die. Motta attempts to repeat Shapiro’s words, but the metal gags he wears prohibit him from speaking, foam seeping down his chin as he makes an effort to enunciate each word.

“I’m speaking about a kind of system of solidarity and alliances with queer subjects that may come from different experiences and backgrounds, but are unified by the experience of expressing and […] reflecting on the ways in which society has historically […] discriminated and oppressed queer subjects and very much keep them at the margins of what is good, what is moral, what is respectable,” Motta said.