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Witnessing history/embodying testimony: gender and memory in post-apartheid South Africa

Coombes, Annie E. (2011) Witnessing history/embodying testimony: gender and memory in post-apartheid South Africa. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17 (S1), S92-S112. ISSN 1359-0987.

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This paper explores two very different contexts in South Africa where witnessing and secondary witnessing have a special impact on the nature of national memorialization: women's narrative accounts of their prison experiences; and therapeutic initiatives around HIV/AIDS. It asks whether experiences related through testimony of one kind or another can be embodied in forms which might enable access for non-participants, especially since the power of witnessing relies so heavily on qualities of voice and performance. What would be an adequate and relevant form which might translate personal trauma into a publicly accessible and affective monument or memorial? And if, unlike most of the public commemorative initiatives in South Africa since 1994, we take gender into consideration, is there anything particular about aspects of women's experience that might influence such a decision? Is it possible for us as non-participants to adopt an ethical viewing position in relation to this material which takes on board both Susan Sontag's caution about voyeurism and Gayatri Spivak's insistence on the importance of listening without engaging in a necessarily narcissistic empathy that might obliterate the speaker's right to an incommensurable experience?

Item Type: Article
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Arts > History of Art
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 24 Jun 2011 08:54
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2014 11:57

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