Bearing Witness to Apartheid

Videos created by Gerhard and Maja Marx to bear witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process were screened continuously in Thompson Chapel for two weeks in April 2016. Photo: Gerhard Marx

A 2016 installation drew upon Truth and Reconciliation Commission testimony to disrupt campus routines and challenge viewers

Oppression and human rights abuses were the focus of of a major Gaudino initiative in 2016—an art installation featuring music and text built around testimony from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings that followed South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. Drawing from testimonies collected by the TRC, REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape & Testimony features some of South Africa’s leading opera soloists and a chorus composed of the Williams Concert Choir, Brooklyn’s Total Praise Choir of Emmanuel Baptist Church, and South African singers, along with images created by artistic creators Gerhard and Maja Marx.

The work, conceived and composed by Philip Miller, premiered live at the ’62 Center at Williams in 2007, with Williams artist-in-residence Brad Wells conducting.

In his artist’s statement, Miller explained the genesis of the work’s title: “At the TRC hearing in Cape Town, Mrs. Eunice Miya, one of the mothers of the Gugulethu Seven activists, testified as to how she came to hear of the news of her son’s death. She had seen an image of his body broadcast on national television. She said to the commissioners: ‘The reason why I am here again is because… nobody had come to tell me that Jabulani had passed away. First of all, we were listening to the news, with my daughter. One of the children was shown on TV who had a gun on his chest. Only to find out that it was my son, Jabulani. I prayed. I said, “Oh no, Lord!” I wished the news could be rewind.’ ”

For two weeks in April of 2016, the Gaudino program returned the work to Williams with an installation of seven videos, dispersed across the campus, that disrupted the everyday experience of shared Williams spaces. By bearing witness to the TRC process, the sounds and images challenged the campus and local community to reflect: What are the costs of keeping such memories of collective trauma alive? What are the costs of letting them go?

The distributed installation included video monitors in Sawyer Library, Hollander Hall, WCMA, the ’62 Center, Schow Science Library, the Davis Center, and Milne Public Library, each showing one of these clips, with audio available on headphones.  All seven segments were screened continuously in Thompson Chapel for the duration of the installation. Artistic creators Gerhard and Maja Marx returned from South Africa to campus for the installation and visited three classes as well as joining two other courses for meals. Their work was discussed in an interview with Professor of Theatre David Eppel and producer Rachel Chanoff, and the installation was reviewed in the Williams Record and featured on WAMC radio.