IT TAKES A special kind of boldness and confidence to fill a traditional gallery space in a way that pushes its capacity and radically shifts its limits. This was something you may have seen in Igshaan Adams’s exhibition last September, as it is something you will experience with Gabrielle Goliath’s. The fact that both of these artists are Standard Bank Young Artists for Visual Art is a nod in the direction of the festival committee.
As you enter the space, however, any thoughts of banks or committees or bureaucracy or officialdom evaporate. Even conventional understandings of what art may be, crumble. The circular space at the top of the gallery stairs becomes like a sanctuary. Two large screens are mounted and projections of songs in process are screened. The artists include Nonku Phiri, Desire Marea, Msaki, Gabi Motuba, Dope Saint Jude, Büjin, Jacobi de Villiers and more.
The song are well known: Bohemian Rhapsody, Ave Maria, among others. But this is no easy gig.
Enveloped in the deep rich purple of mourning, the work is about making sense of brokenness. It’s about what happens in the wake of violence, to the victim. Stripped of gory details or blood on the floor, it’s a potent testament to surviving. The names of some of the people in the installation may be known to you. Others are secreted away under anonymity. Each has words, poems, lyrics, recollections, writ in white text on the wall. Each becomes a dance of survival, to a tune that is boiling and searing, gentle and repetitive, mesmerising in its texture.
And it’s a strange thing: the exhibition is not an accumulation of hundreds of carefully crafted pieces. It’s completely simple; in conventional terms, it doesn’t actually comprise any words at all, yet you cannot visit it in haste. The words, the songs grab you by the essence and force you to be in a situation. Allow you to weep. Encourage you to ponder.
Be warned, however: the work must be switched on by the gallery staff. If you visit the space and only the text reverberates from the walls at you, you have not had the full experience, and the staff are saving electricity: you must ask for the works to be switched on.
Having said that, words do belie the potency of Goliath’s project here. In celebrating women who have weathered violence, she skirts platitude, states the obvious but constructs something fresh and clear-voiced that doesn’t stoop to pop psychology or easy listening. It’s an exhibition which will shake your soul.
- This song is for … by Gabrielle Goliath is at the Standard Bank Gallery in central Johannesburg until September 14.