Critics’ Picks

Gabrielle Goliath, This song is for...Sinesipho Lakani (Save the hero, Beyoncé), 2019, HD video and sound installation, 16 minutes 6 seconds.

Gabrielle Goliath, This song is for...Sinesipho Lakani (Save the hero, Beyoncé), 2019, HD video and sound installation, 16 minutes 6 seconds.

Cape Town

Gabrielle Goliath

South African National Gallery
Government Avenue, Company's Garden
October 25, 2019–April 27, 2020

Last September, South African women wearing black and holding placards angrily picketed the parliament in Cape Town after the brutal rape and murder of university student Uyinene Mrwetyana. Two months later, Gabrielle Goliath’s multimedia installation, “This song is for…,” 2019—an immersive, durational, and ultimately recuperative engagement with the country’s grim rape crisis—opened in this venue adjacent to parliament. Goliath’s elegiac installation occupies two empurpled rooms, and builds from earlier collective works exploring brutality against women. Two sets of collaborators lend their experiences to this work: eleven rape survivors, whose varied reflections, excerpted in individual wall texts, particularize instances of sexual violence, and a group of musicians, tasked with interpreting a meaningful song selected by each survivor. A two-channel film displayed in the second, larger room shows these musicians—either women alone or in ensembles led by women or gender-nonconforming bandleaders—performing traditional hymns and pop songs by, among others, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, and Rachel Platten.

Music is mnemonic; it evokes times, places, and incidents. Goliath’s installation uses this conceit but makes a strategic intervention. The delivery of each of song is disturbed by a sudden and prolonged repetition of a line. “Unstoppable today, I’m unstoppable today,” singer Nonku Phiri endlessly repeats in her adaptation of Sia’s 2016 feminist anthem “Unstoppable,” selected by Pat Hutchinson, who describes being raped by four men while seeking directions to a hospital where her friend was giving birth. Phiri’s stutter distends and contorts the song’s sassy narrative, almost sundering it. These “sonic disruptions,” as Goliath terms them, stretch her eleven-song cycle to more than three hours, amplifying the work’s sense of lament. A warped sense of time also infuses the narratives of victims, like Karen Howell, who doggedly, over many years, challenged a dysfunctional legal system until her two rapists were jailed. Closure, though, is often unattainable. “My life has never been the same,” reads Sinesipho Lakani’s text. “I’m broken.” Unable to offer justice, Goliath instead maps a way forward, together, on the difficult path to healing.