Maria del Carmen Montoya operates in the contested ground between art and social activism. Her primary medium is the communal process of making meaning. As an artist, she seeks ways to catalyze this natural social phenomenon with situations that insist on the power of human-scale intervention in the presumed inevitability of everyday life. Her methodology is dialogic and collaborative. She believes that art can be a potent crucible for social change. Thus, her work is often about resistance and challenging norms, inverting power hierarchies and breaking rules, but she also traffics in beauty, memory, humor and other potentially radical forces for activating communities.
She has lived and worked throughout Latin America where she served as the sole interpreter for an assembly of rural farms in San Salvador, an advocate for battered women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and an English teacher for a craft cooperative in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Her work has been shown at SIGGRAPH, PERFORMA, New Museum Festival of Ideas, ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, Venice Biennial of Architecture and Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras, in Morelia, Mexico, where she co-founded an artist residency for multimedia performance art.
She is a core member of Ghana ThinkTank, an international artist collective that “develops the first world” by flipping traditional power dynamics, asking people living in the “third world” to intervene into the lives of the people living in the so-called “developed” world. Their innovative approach to public art reveals blind spots between otherwise disconnected cultures, challenges assumptions about who is “needy,” and turns the idea of expertise on its head. Their ongoing project, "The American Riad," transforms abandoned buildings and empty lots into an Islamic Riad: communal housing surrounding an elaborate and beautifully designed courtyard. Rather than demonizing Muslims and immigrants as a threat to American culture and safety, this project instead looks at how we can adopt elements of Islamic and African Culture to solve American problems.