Gabrielle Goliath, Elegy – Noluvo Swelindawo, 2018
Gabrielle Goliath: Elegy
Apr 5 – Jun 30, 2024
Galleria Raffaella Cortese
Milan, Italy

For her inaugural exhibition at Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Gabrielle Goliath unveils a lyrical work of remembrance, repair and black feminist love. Initiated by the artist in 2015, Elegy is a long-term commemorative performance, staged in locations from Johannesburg and São Paulo to Paris, Basel, Munich and Amsterdam. Each performance gathers a group of seven female vocal performers who collectively enact a ritual of mourning, sustaining a single haunting tone over the course of an hour. Invoked in the ritual gesture of each performance is the absent presence of a named (and loved) woman or LGBTIQ+ individual raped and killed in South Africa. For those immersed in its sonic wake, Elegy is an opportunity not only to grapple with a normative crisis of patriarchal violence, but to reaffirm the fullness, beauty and insistence of black, brown, femme and queer lives.

For the exhibition, Elegy, a bespoke installation structure was conceived, weaving a nuanced score of videos, sound, texts and photographs through the three gallery spaces in Via Stradella. As the first showing of all ten filmed performances of Elegy, the exhibition marks a seminal moment in Goliath’s artistic journey:

“This is to me a deeply gratifying recollection and celebration of Elegy, as a work that remains central to my practice and as urgent as ever in its political demand.”

In an economy of differentially valued life, Elegy asserts conditions of hope and avowal, memorialising (as loveable and grievable) the lives of individuals lost to the physical, ontological and structural violence of rape culture and femicide in South Africa. Transnational in its reach, it calls for solidarity and relation without collapsing difference. And, of course, coming to the work here in Milan, we find ourselves implicated, for as Françoise Vergès makes clear in A Decolonial Feminism (2020), this violence is not limited to the ‘abject’ corners of Africa and the global south, but permeates the racial, gendered and sexualised hierarchies of Europe, and the modern/colonial world order it instituted.

Goliath’s artistic gesture is one of care and transformation, eschewing spectacle and the regular objectification of traumatized black, brown, femme and queer bodies. Turning to ritual, sound and a praxis of relationality, she offers a space for transformative empathic encounters in which grief collapses representation and loss presents an alternative site for community and imagination. In the paralinguistic flow of this sonic lament, she abandons melody, narrative and codified legibility, drawing participants into a more visceral, resonant aesthetic experience. And in the liminal space of this irresolution (rather than closure or catharsis), she asks us to collectively perform a political work of mourning.

Called to mind in this radical sociality is French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas’ conception of the other as a boundary perpetually questioning us, of otherness as a fundamental condition of our being. This obligation and opportunity of ‘the other’ is traceable throughout the filaments of Goliath’s installation – playing out in the contingent, ethical terms of difference and bearing. Reverberating in our spaces, hers is an intimate, urgent and enabling elegy, sounding forth the radical possibility of a world otherwise.

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