Gabrielle Goliath collaborates with Nonku Phiri, Dope Saint Jude on moving sexual violence art exhibition

Gabrielle Goliath.
Gabrielle Goliath.

Gabrielle Goliath
This Song Is For …
Standard Bank Gallery, Frederick St, Marshalltown
Open Mondays to Fridays 8am to 4.30pm Saturdays 9am to 1pm
Until September 14

Global reports on sexual violence have identified four domains on healing for survivors: managing memories, relating to those important to us, constructing a lifeworld that is as safe as possible and restoring a sense of self.

On my exploration of Gabrielle Goliath’s recent exhibition, This Song Is For … , I felt the boundlessness and possibility of these four domains of healing.

This week, femicide again exploded into the news headlines, but artists and activists have never stopped making a noise about it, highlighting the malfunctions of a world that keeps womxn vulnerable and unsafe.

Says Goliath in her artist statement: “A tragic reality of our country, and indeed the world, is that rape is the story of many, and living as a survivor is an everyday battle for life.

This I have learnt from the truly inspiring and victorious survivors for whom This Song Is For … It was important to me that the art installation reflected this social dynamic, and made space for specific, individual experiences and voices.”


The Wretched

Through her exhibition, the South African multimedia artist, gender activist and recent Standard Bank Young Artist award winner for visual art tells a tale many of us have heard at least once before.

The video and sound installation includes 11 dedication songs, each chosen by a survivor of rape – each song carries a special meaning to these individuals.



Goliath collaborated with young South African musicians, among them Nonku Phiri, Desire Marea, Msaki, Gabi Motuba, Dope Saint Jude and Jacobi de Villiers, to rearrange the survivor’s songs, which range from Beyoncé’s Save the Hero to REM’s Everybody Hurts.

There is a sonic disruption introduced at a point within each song cover, to symbolise the trauma and journey of each survivor. Readers can listen to the tracks by clicking through to Goliath's website.

As I slowly navigate the work I am embraced by dimmed warm lighting and a bouquet of pillows arranged on the floor in front of the screens. It becomes a space of reflection, solidarity and healing.

Nonku Phiri

The curation of the space subverts previous art exhibitions I have been to, by encouraging a sense of comfort in the context of something that makes many of us uncomfortable to speak about and engage with openly.

“There can be joy in killing joy. And kill joy we must, and we do.”

These words, by feminist and queer theorist Sara Ahmed, best solidify the feelings of most of us who grapple with the idea that there is one month in the year that South Africa chooses to acknowledge womxn’s struggles, thinking that is enough – based on the lived realities of womxn and effeminate people it really isn’t.

Dope Saint Jude

“As an artist I am driven by what I would describe as black feminist politics,” says Goliath. For almost 10 years now she has been making work that engages in different ways with the often normalised violence that renders black, brown, feminine and queer bodies vulnerable in our societies.

The theme of Goliath’s work, for me, is a trajectory of decolonial healing. For someone who is consuming the art, reading the words of survivors inspires a sense of validation for those seeking healing and feeling trauma.

This is something many cannot imagine receiving in the context of a country and government whose past actions, such as in the late Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo’s rape case, quite frankly shows no caring for victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

Desire Marea, featuring Izimakade

Your story matters, your story resonates, your story deserves to be heard and believed. These sentiments continuously rang in my ears as I sat on the pillows and allowed myself to just be present and take in the music.

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