Coloured Opera as Subversive Forgetting

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Abstract

During South Africa’s apartheid regime, the Eoan Opera Group found itself precariously balanced on the tenuous fringe between complicity and resistance. Their elaborate productions of Italian operas were performed to segregated audiences under the auspices of the Department of Coloured Affairs. While the act of singing presented a crossing of the boundaries constructed by the geopolitics of apartheid, the songs themselves implicated them in a problematic celebration of Western culture. But their re-creation of “pure” Western music also provided coloured people with a means of transgressing the ideological and geographical boundaries between themselves and the white centre of apartheid. Thus, the aspirational impulse was transformed into a disruptive inhabiting of what was regarded as the dominion of whiteness. I shall argue that the Eoan group’s performances, when read as subversive, form a voice in counterpoint to the familiar master-narrative of nationalist resistance and its typical accompanying musical expressions, thus sounding in productive counterpoint to widely accepted definitions of political struggle. Following Edward Said, I shall argue for a reading of the Eoan operas as moments of forgetting, in which a subversion born out of complicity undermined apartheid’s politics of colour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-242
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Dynamics
Volume43
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes

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