Art & Social Justice Working Group
Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Art Case Study

Carlos Motta

The Nefandus Trilogy & Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice

Carlos Motta is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work draws upon political history in an attempt to create counter narratives that recognize suppressed histories, communities, and identities. His work is known for its engagement with histories of queer culture and activism and for its insistence that the politics of sex and gender represent an opportunity to articulate definite positions against social and political injustice.

Motta's work has been presented internationally in venues such as Tate Modern, London; The New Museum, The Guggenheim Museum and MoMA/PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogotá; Museu Serralves, Porto; Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; CCS Bard Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson; San Francisco Art Institute; Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin; Witte de With, Rotterdam; Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Mexico City; and many other public, private and independent spaces throughout the world.

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The Nefandus Trilogy (2013) explores the imposition of European epistemological categories onto native cultures during the Spanish and Portuguese Conquest of the Americas. This projects includes photographs, sculptures and a video, all of which address subjects that were deemed "exotic," "wild," or "native".

The project's central axis is Nefandus (2013) a narrative video that investigates pre-Hispanic (homo)sexuality. While it has been widely documented that the conquistadores used sex as a weapon of domination of indigenous populations, little is known about the homoerotic indigenous traditions. How did the Christian morality, as taught by the Catholic missions and propagated through war during the Conquest, transform the natives' relationship with sex? Nefandus, Latin for impious, abominable, or unnamable, was a common word used in Colonial Latin America in reference to sin. A pecado nefando (unspeakable sin) was a transgressive crime of sexual nature, such as sodomy, which was severely judged and punished. The video suggests that constructions of sexuality and the body can't be projected onto cultures whose traditions and histories remain unknown and have been mediated by European classifications.

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Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice (2010) is set against the 2010 presidential election campaign in Colombia, and is based on a series of performative actions in public squares in Bogotá. Six actors of different social and ethnic backgrounds read peace speeches originally delivered by six Colombian liberal and left-wing political leaders (Jorge Eliécer Gaitán,Luis Carlos Galán, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, Jaime Pardo Leal, Carlos Pizarro and Rafael Uribe Uribe) who were assassinated in the last 100 years because of their political ideology.

These "acts" focused on the need to remember the systematic elimination of voices that have dared to oppose the ruling order by articulating their differing points of view and that have denounced by name those responsible for Colombia's repetitive history of political corruption and violence. Drawing upon the notion of "narrative justice;" that is, justice from the perspective of an aesthetic experience instead of a normative concept, this work offers an exercise of collective memory to underscore its transformative potential.


Welcome to the Art & Social Justice Working Group.


The purpose of the Art + Social Justice Working Group is to examine core conflicts that propel, enrich, and complicate artistic efforts that assume agency to enact social change. In this examination the group expects to foster clarity around both terminology and effective artistic and curatorial practice.

This site is home to the developing dialogue of glossary terms for describing this work and strategies for enacting it.

Core Conflicts

The ASJWG is organized around conflicts central to current conversations and practice in socially and politically engaged art. The six initial conflicts include: Accountability: Artist, Curator, Institution, Funder; Authorship, Collective and Other; Audience, Participation, Spectatorship, Modes of Address; Aesthetics and Usefulness; Local and Global, Specific and General; and Now and Forever: Do Gooding, Criticality, Oppositional.

Case Study

Each conflict is grounded in a case study to provide context about a specific project and artist's practice. For example, the first conflict Accountability: Artist, Curator, Institution, Funder begins with Thomas Hirshhorn's Gramsci Monument as a case study to launch a larger dialogue.


Writing from artists, scholars, community members, curators, and others augment conversation about each conflict. You are encouraged to add your own favorites to further the conversation.

Glossary Terms

These key terms and concepts evolve out of the conflict and case study. There is no single official definition, rather many perspectives are aggregated here about each glossary term to develop a complex understanding.


Following a similar format to the glossary, effective strategies for enacting this work in artistic and curatorial practice are aggregated from many individuals. Together they create a series of suggestions, guidelines, and warnings for all participants in this work.

Your comments, fresh perspectives, and contributions of new strategies and glossary terms are welcome and needed to advance this field and support our work.

Commissioned Artwork

Artists were commissioned to attend the initial six conflict meetings and develop new artwork in response to the ideas and perspective shared. Artists include: Liz Slagus and Norene Leddy, Laura Chipley, Fran Illich, and Nobu Aozaki.

Core Group Members

Thomas Anesta
Sascia Bailer
Beka Economopoulos
Deborah Fisher
Elizabeth Grady
Gordon Hall
Larissa Harris
Kemi Ilesanmi
Jason Jones
Kim Katatani
Grant Kester
Pam Korza
Carin Kuoni
Cynthia Lawson
Laura Raicovich
Paul Ramírez Jonas
Yasmil Raymond
Prerana Reddy
Christopher Robbins
Barbara Schaffer Bacon
Robert Sember
Greg Sholette
Radhika Subramaniam
Johanna Taylor
Niels Van Tomme
Christian Viveros-Fauné
Jennifer Wilson

Plus additional guest participants.

The Art + Social Justice Working Group is launched by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School and A Blade of Grass, with support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Vera List Center and A Blade of Grass are both dedicated to supporting individuals in pursuit of the intersection of art and social justice, and to developing related programs and scholarship.

Questions? Comments? Contact
1. What would you like to contribute?
2. To which conflict does this pertain?
3. What is the definition?
3. What is the link to the reading?
4. Who are you? (We promise we won't share your information.)