Gabrielle Goliath’s haunting installation This Song Is For… gives song to the lived experiences of rape survivors
South African multimedia artist, gender advocate and now 2019’s Standard Bank Young Artist award winner for visual art, Gabrielle Goliath (b.1983), brings her new work, This song is for… to Johannesburg this month. Following its successful run at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, the work moves to the Standard Bank Art Gallery, where it will be presented as an immersive audio and visual installation.
On entering the exhibition space, audiences are confronted by a unique collection of dedication songs – playing sequentially, and each one chosen by a survivor of rape. These are songs of personal significance to the survivors – songs that take them back to a particular time and place, evoking a sensory world of memory and feeling. As collaborators on the project, the survivors shared not only their songs, but also a colour of their choosing and a written reflection. The artist then worked in close collaboration with a group of women and gender-queer led musical ensembles to reinterpret and re-perform the songs.
Leading local musicians like Nonku Phiri, Desire Marea, Msaki, Gabi Motuba, Dope Saint Jude, BŪJIN and Jacobi de Villiers are featured – presenting new renditions of such well-known songs as Bohemian Rhapsody, Ave Maria and Save the Hero, to name a few.
During the course of each song, a sonic disruption is introduced; a recurring musical rupture recalling the ‘broken record’ effect of a scratched vinyl LP. Presented in this performed disruption is an opportunity for listeners to imaginatively inhabit a contested space of traumatic recall – one in which the de-subjectifying violence of rape and its psychic afterlives become painfully entangled with personal and political claims to life, dignity, hope, faith, even joy.
Speaking to the work, Goliath reflects, “In a work like This song is for… I am seeking to resist the violence through which black, brown, feminine, queer and vulnerable bodies are routinely objectified, in the ways they are imaged, written about, spoken about…what I have in mind is a more empathic interaction.”
Gabrielle Goliath situates her practice within contexts marked by the traces, disparities and as-of-yet unreconciled traumas of colonialism and apartheid, as well as socially entrenched structures of patriarchal power and rape-culture.
This Song is for…opens at the Standard Bank Gallery on the 26th of July, and will include a programme of live performances.
“When language fails us, when conventional therapy fails us, art allows for a different kind of encounter, a more human encounter perhaps. One in which the differences that mark our experiences of the world become the grounds for our mutual acknowledgement and care,” concludes Goliath.