One Thousand Voices, an immersive sound installation by the multi-cultural Gabonese artist Owanto, will be exhibited at The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), February 6th 2019, for the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
One Thousand Voices is a collection of audio testimonies from Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting survivors (FMG/C). Using various languages, some speaking anonymously, most testifying openly, this installation projects sounds and stories of survival and strength derived from cutting. The voices weave together to create one collective story. This ensemble brings to light the complex issues surrounding FGM/C. The mélange of voices, accents, and languages emerge from 27 countries in Africa, parts of the Middle East, Asia, and the ever-growing diaspora, and tackle the very taboos that often leave others silent.
The piece is composed like a symphony —voices are recorded on a smartphone and sent via WhatsApp– with several movements, elements and choruses. The monotonous crackling undertone of a broken record alludes to the coming of a new age – as said in the french idiom “change de disque!” which translates to “change the record!”.
In this exhibition Owanto creates a bridge between visual images (photographs) from the 1940s and sound images (audio testimonies) describing contemporary societies, because for the artist it is vital to weave the past with the present, the analogue with the digital, the artistic with the journalistic. While the flower poetically plays a healing role and attempts to metaphorically change the narrative in Flowers Series –from victims to heroines— the collective voice of women and girls united to say “no more” in One Thousand Voices breaks the silence and literally changes the narrative.
“It all started with found photographs of a female circumcision ceremony hidden in a forgotten drawer. One of these photographs, La Jeune Fille à La Fleur from Flower Series, now hangs on the wall of the second floor of the Zeitz MOCAA and is part of the permanent collection. It stands as a symbol for change. The second series One Thousand Voices, an immersive sound installation where survivors share their stories irrespective of geography, age, colour, religion, or culture, will be heard at The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town, and The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), Marrakech in February 2019. While the photographs are a point of departure for the exhibition at Zeitz MOCAA, MACAAL will be presenting the work in collaboration with reformed cutters who have abandoned the knife and who are now using the needle in a third series, Pardonne-Moi, to materialize the voices of survivors and to make amends.” – Owanto
Curated by Gcotyelwa Mashiqa and Sakhi Gcina, the exhibition highlights gender inequality and the politics surrounding a woman’s body. The collective voice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) survivors reports on the magnitude of the practice, which emerges from patriarchal regimes, perpetuated by matriarcal societies, and questions where women and girls are heading globally in terms of their rights over their own bodies. It calls upon practicing communities to adopt an alternate celebration, an alternative rite of passage devoid of cutting.
The exhibition opens on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, and will include a panel with Chief Curator and Director of Zeitz MOCAA Azu Nwagbogu, artist Owanto, journalist/producer Katya Berger, and a guest Activist/Survivor. The subject of the discussion will be about the relevance of art activism in contemporary art/society and the responsibility placed on the contemporary art community (artists, gallerists, curators, collectors, museums, and cultural institutions) to engage with and change culture.
One Thousand Voices is produced in collaboration with Katya Berger, journalist and documentary producer, and with contributions from the following NGOs, Schools, and Safe Houses:
Sahiyo (India), WeSpeakOut (India), CESVED (Nigeria), Africa Schools Kenya (Kenya), We Yone Child Foundation (Sierra Leone), AWARE (Singapore), Stop FGM Iran (Iran), The Crocodile Project (Germany), Kalyanamitra (Indonesia), Senegalese Committee on Traditional Practices (Senegal), Hope for Women and Girls (Tanzania), Masanga Centre (Tanzania), Yes We Can Foundation (Gambia), Think Young Women (Gambia), Women Solidarity (Liberia), Equipop (France), Women Safe (France), Maison des Femmes (France), Gams France (France), France Terre d’Asile (France), Nafis Network (Somaliland), Galyako Education Center for Peace & Development (Somaliland), Voix de Femmes (Burkina Faso), Girl Generation (Burkina Faso), Portuguese Family Planning Association (Portugal), Medicos del Mundo (Spain), Ghana Association of Women Welfare (Ghana), and independent partners.