Neelika Jayawardane

Gabrielle Goliath: performance as a ‘different kind of inhabitance’

by M. Neelika Jayawardane


Gabrielle Goliath’s range of works – from her earliest exhibited work, Ek is ‘n Kimberly Coloured (2007), and following that, Berenice 10-28 (2010), Stumbling Block (2011), Roulette (2012), Personal Accounts (2014), Elegy (2015), and her latest work, This Song Is For… (2019) – employ embodied or voice-centred performances, and/or installations that utilise sound and video. Her work situates itself, as she notes, “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.” [1] The imperative to expose – to make visible that which we would otherwise wish to maintain unacknowledged, out-of-sight, or masked by veils of performative concern – is a thread that runs through each of Goliath’s projects. In drawing urgent attention to gender-based and sexual violence, and the broad, long-lasting effects of land dispossession and forced migrations, her work speaks powerfully to present day effects of seemingly distant legislative decisions, and the violent patriarchy behind much of South Africa’s present.

However, although Goliath’s projects unapologetically unmask the brutality with which we treat women, non-binary, and transgender people, they are more than a commentary that seeks to highlight systematic and systemic violence that subtend our ordinary interactions and ways of being. And whilst her works create spaces for reflection and mourning, they are more than ritualised lamentations that highlight victimhood. The endpoint for Goliath’s works is not ‘bringing attention’ to the violence that we, as individuals, communities, and nations are often not ready to address. After all, it takes more than ‘awareness building’ and ‘talking about it’ to challenge patriarchal and state violence. Instead, performance allows Goliath to create more complex possibilities, offering her means of “resisting erasure and violation of bodies routinely subjected to forms of physical, ontological and structural violence.” [2] For audiences, her projects create spaces for “opportunities for affective, relational encounters” that refute “the violence through which black, brown, feminine, queer and vulnerable bodies are routinely fixed through forms of representation.” [3]

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