Gabrielle Goliath’s ‘Chorus’ honours the memory of Uyinene Mrwetyana
Share this article:
South African multidisciplinary artist Gabrielle Goliath, in collaboration with the University of Cape Town (UCT) choir, is commemorating the life of Uyinene Mrwetyana and other victims of gender-based violence.
Mrwetyana, 19, was raped, tortured and bludgeoned to death by Luyanda Botha, at a local post office on August 24, 2019.
Following this horrendous act of violence, Botha dumped the young student’s remains in an open field, dousing her body with petrol and setting it alight.
In her latest installation work “Chorus”, Goliath uses music to “recall” the lost lives of many women, children and non-gender-conforming individuals who were raped and brutally murdered in South Africa.
“In ’Chorus’, members of the UCT choir sound a lament for Uyinene Mrwetyana, not as a song, but the internally generated resonance of a hum, collectively sustained as a mutual offering of breath,” said Goliath.
She added: “This particular piece is a two-channel video. In the one channel, you see the UCT choir performing this lament. And in the other, you see absent rostra where the choir was supposed to perform.
“The work came after the brutal murder of Uyinene. And I wanted to speak to how there was national reckoning within the country. And it was such an extraordinary moment in the country. So this lament is performed in memory of Uyinene and it is significant because so many of these individuals in the choir knew her, they were friends.
“And then in the other channel, you have this absolute deafening silence and absence but the collection of the names of a specific woman, or LGBTQI+ individual that has since that time of Uyinene’s murder, been subjected to this fatal act (of violence).
“The performance resonates in intimate relation to the haunting presence of empty rostra, its quietude marking the absent presence of four hundred and sixty-three individuals listed on a commemorative roll, whose lost lives similarly call for the long, collective, and as we must hope, transformative work of mourning.”
The 2019’s Standard Bank Young Artist award winner for Visual Art is known for her conceptually distilled and sensitive negotiations of complex social concerns, particularly in relation to situations of gendered and sexualised violence.
“Much of my work is centred around the black, brown, queer, political space and is very much oriented towards a kind of subject centred subject led approach,” she explained.
“’Chorus’ is a very important work for me as it comes after having worked specifically in a long term rational performance of mine called ’Elegy’.”
Initiated in 2015, ’Elegy’ has been staged locally and abroad with each iteration marking the “absent presence” of a specific woman, or queer individual who had been subjected to sexual violence in the country.
“’Elegy’ was a work that involved seven opera singers, for each performance, performing an hour-long lament. And this lament was directed towards a particular individual, who had been raped and killed in South Africa.
“And the whole idea was to recall the lives lost and, of course, honour that and perform this lament.. this ritual of mourning.
“But each performer is set, one at a time, to sing a single note. And as they run out of breath, they pass that note to the next person behind them. And so the cycle continues for an hour.
“What I've always wanted to do following the work of ’Elegy’ was this work called ’Chorus’.
“Similarly, with ’Chorus’, I wanted to speak to how various authors are imperative for collective mourning, and for collective acknowledgement of the loss.”
Goliath insists that her work is not about violence, but rather about difficult topics like pain, suffering, and trauma of another.
“You're not going to walk into a space and encounter a scene depicting violence, per se, but rather, you're going to step into a kind of aspect of the encounter where sound and music and the bodily presence of performers within the piece, are there to invoke a particular kind of experience for, I always say not a viewer, because my work is not only dependent on the visual but on all the aspects of experiences and for the participants who come to the work immerses themselves in it.
“They experience it and all their sensory levels, so it's a kind of sensuous journey as well.”
Explaining the significance of music in her work, Goliath said: “I've always said each one of us could relate to the music because music is such a transport experience.
“And it is the transporting quality with music that I wanted to use in that particular body of work as a way of creating a kind of sonic experience for people to come to this very difficult experience but through music.
“There is such a significance of voice, of breath, of sound of working with absence, and all of that ties back to an important aspect of my work of not looking to run the risk of perpetuating violence in my work or reasserting a kind of secondary or vicarious trauma.
“But in actual fact, creating the kind of experience where we come to this work in recognition of, this was not just violence in general, but a specific individual with a name, who was loved, and who is now visible, lovable, grievable.”
“Chorus” is presented with the blessing of the Uyinene Mrwetyana Foundation.
The installation will be available at the Goodman’s Gallery until December 10.