Gabrielle Goliath/ Text Jareh Das

In SWAG high profiles, inaugural issue

« In my ongoing performance work, Stumbling Block, I create actions that force the viewer to negotiate the shrouded human form, access is complicated for those wishing to enter or exit the space, the privileged remove of which is thrown into question. Significant here is the idea of how the hyper-visibility of marginalised and ‘unseen’ bodies is negotiated (or negated). »

– Gabrielle Goliath 

Gabrielle Goliath

Gabrielle Goliath’s practice operates 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. Enabling opportunities for affective, relational encounters, she seeks to resist the violence through which black, brown, feminine, queer and vulnerable bodies are routinely fixed through forms of representation.  Goliath entered the art world by way of fashion, as she began creating conceptual clothes but progressed to using video, photography, multimedia production, and performance as a positive platform to spotlight difficult topics such as assault, loss, and trauma.

In her ongoing performance series Stumbling Block (2011-), Goliath transfers the familiar sight of a blanketed homeless person huddled in whatever available space they might have (doorways, subway stops, park benches and so on), to range of public and institutional sites including Goethe on Main, Johannesburg (2011), Hiddingh Hall, Zeitz MOCAA and Goodman Gallery in Cape Town (all 2017), Nirox Sculpture Garden, Krugersdorp (2018) and Centro Cultural, São Paulo (2019) as a form of social critique.  As she describes, ‘these actions force the viewer to negotiate the shrouded human form, access is complicated for those wishing to enter or exit the space, the privileged remove of which is thrown into question. Significant here is the idea of how the hyper-visibility of marginalised and ‘unseen’ bodies is negotiated (or negated). Made apparent also, and performed, is the problematic relation of art to its market, in the symbolic inclusion of a body ordinarily excluded from such an economy. Goliath also creates immersive sound installations, mainly produced in collaboration with musicians and DJs where she focuses on the trauma of violence within social-political concerns, particularly as this relates to the experiences of women. 

Recently named as the winner of the Special Prize category for Future Generation Art Prize 2019 established by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation in 2009 (this year marks the 10-year anniversary of the prize’s founding), Goliath’s winning work In This song is for… was commended by the jury for ‘her handling of such difficult and important subject matter in a touching yet sharp manner in the work,’ according to the selection committee, ‘This song is for… speaks directly and emotionally to the viewer while generating a powerful sense of discomfort, and it leaves room for personal reflection and maintains respect for the six individual testimonies.’ This song is for…creates an immersive filmic and auditory environment engaging viewer in a visual and physical sense. In collaboration with a group of women-led musical ensembles, she re-performs the popular convention of the dedication song from a series of dedicated songs chosen rape supervisor, which are performed as a newly produced cover version. Those songs remind those singing of a traumatic and harrowing experience whilst returning them back to a particular time and place and merging past and present memories and recollections.  For each song, Goliath inserts a sonic disruption, a recurring musical rupture recalling the ‘broken record’ effect of a repetition. This gives an emotional response for the listeners in connection with the texts displayed on the walls – genuine confessions about the violence of rape and painful effects of living after the tragedy. 

Works including Personal Accounts, Roulette, and Elegy negotiate, in quite different ways, the trauma and loss associated with gendered/sexualized violence, as well as the politics of its normalization as rape culture.  For Goliath, a work like Elegy (an ongoing performance project she initiated in 2015) ‘constitutes a form of political labour, as each performance calls to remembrance a woman or LGBTQIA+ individual subjected to fatal acts of sexualized, often racialized, violence which  invokes the absent presence of these individuals, thus allowing for mourning to become a way of refusing the systematic disavowal through which “ungrievable” lives are rendered to the social/political periphery.’

Personal Accounts, stills  2014 © Gabrielle Goliath

Elegy, multi channel installation, 2019 © Gabrielle Goliath

To tackle female pain in such a raw and confrontational manner attests to Goliath’s continued to strive for equality and justice by confronting violence in a way that evokes memory, feeling and presence.  The exhibition at the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev alongside 20 other artists shortlisted for which she won a special prize is now on view at the 58th Venice Biennale (11 May – 18 Aug 2019) as an official collateral event.

Goliath recently participated in the Verbo Performance Art Festival (2018), Sao Paulo; the Palais de Tokyo’s Do Disturb Festival (2018), Paris; the National Arts Festival (2018), Makhanda; as well as the 11th Bamako Encounters Biennale (2017), Mali. She has won a number of awards including the Institut Franзais, Afrique en Crйations Prize (Bamako Biennale). Her work features in numerous public and private collections, including the Iziko South African National Gallery, Johannesburg Art Gallery and Wits Art Museum. Goliath is currently a Ph.D. candidate with the Institute for Creative Arts at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. 

In SWAG high profiles, inaugural issue
Devin Hentz
April 2019