I am certain that it is impossible to shake off visual artist, Gabrielle Goliath’s, ELEGY performance. It has been weeks since I was part of the audience and I am still haunted by the memory.
The chatty room fell dead quiet as the seven operatic female singers dressed in all black walked in single file towards the almost cubic stage.
The first singer in line stepped onto the stage and began to sing the single note that was passed on to the next singer as she stepped off and the other stepped on.
The B natural note that was sustained throughout the hour-long performance resembled wailing.
As the performance taxingly progressed a singer would silently leave the line and stand to form a circle around the audience until only one singer remained.
Once the remaining singer joined the circle, they collectively exited the room.
Just like that we partook in the ritual of mourning that had been enacted by the seven black operatic singers.
Sobs now added to the soul-stirring silence.
The presence of the absent individual was hefty.The absent individual being a dead black girl, a dead black girl whose subjectivities were fundamentally violated and consigned her to a generic, all-encompassing victimhood.
Goliath’s ELEGY ceremoniously takes this form. The life of a South African woman, trans or non-binary, that was raped and killed is commemorated. At the performance that I attended at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre in collaboration with the Goodman Gallery, we commemorated the life of Karabo Mokoena, a young black woman who was murdered by her former lover.
ELEGY like most of Goliath’s topics is loaded. Goliath grapples with the problematic of the representation of violence, pain, suffering, trauma and the narrative of others and of another. There is a profound delicateness in Goliath’s imaging, sounding and writing about these sensitive topics. Goliath strategically works around the violence to create the affective impact her audiences are left with.
Through ELEGY Goliath created a moment where loss became a site for community and empathetic cross-cultural and cross-national encounters. During the Q&A after the performance, the audience was evidently distressed because the performance did not provide a means of catharsis, which was deliberate. Goliath made us personalise a traumatised black body instead of routinely objectifying it. A distinct decolonial and intersectional space is created during ELEGY, which presents mourning as a social and productive work. ELEGY gives to those who have not been given a moment and plagues us with the irresolution of gender based violence.