Sonic fingerprints: on the situated use of voice in performative interventions by Donna Kukama, Lerato Shadi and Mbali Khoza

  • Katja Gentric Postdoctoral Fellow, Art History and Image Studies Department, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. Chercheur Associé au Centre Georges Chevrier, France (Associated researcher at the Georges Chevrier Center, France)
Keywords: sound studies, voice, situatedness, accentedness, untranslatables, artistic intervention


This article focuses on sonic elements in performative interventions by three South African artists: Donna Kukama’s, Chapter F: The Free School for Art and All 'Fings Necessary (Until Fees fall) (2016), Lerato Shadi’s Matsogo (2013) and Mbali Khoza’s What difference does it make who is speaking? (2014). By observing the details of each artist’s use of voice and its ‘situatedness’ (Goniwe; Mohotowa Thaluki), I have positioned the works within the discipline of sound studies. Beyond the sites chosen for the interventions, their ‘situatedness’ refers to the cultural aspects informing them, including language specificity and the diachronical re-actualitsations of struggle-songs, traditional tales and newspaper journalism. The locations are a hole or negative space in the pavement on Johannesburg’s Beyers Naudé Square, a discarded newspaper page showing the foreign index, and Makhanda Eastern Star Museum. I refer here to sound, time and matter as ‘fingerprint’ (Cassin; Dolar), arguing for each one's right to be heard according to his/her personal means of expression, and that ‘accentedness’ (Coetzee) and situatedness should not lead to the assumption of the existence of an impenetrable ‘epistemic barrier’ (Maharaj). The triad combining use of language (individuated speech), bodily voice, and the time-factor involved allows for a sonic fingerprint to evolve.