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Not being able to speak is torture: performing listening to painful narratives

An interactive sound installation and research-creation project undertaken in collaboration with a family of Colombian refugees in Canada, Dr. Luis C. Sotelo Castro, and sound artist Barry Prophet. During Not being able to speak is torture, listener-participants in groups of 9 - 12 are invited to move through three stages together. The first one is meant to form the groups and build trust. In the second stage, the groups are invited to be still and silent inside a small maze-like structure that echoes the original place in which the family, and some other people, had to hide as the guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was looking for them in 2002. Participants listen to a 30-minutes ‘treated’ version of selected fragments of the mother and her oldest daughter’s testimonies while in the space. Finally, in the third stage, the groups participate in a debriefing session.


Some listeners’ feedback

It was good not being alone, but at the same time, the deeper I listened to the stories, the more I wanted to be alone, so it was like this very contradictory thing, I mean at least it was good that there were other bodies there, the stories were hurtful, in that moment of hurtfulness I wanted to be away from everyone at the same timewhile we were in the same space. Maybe it’s the deeper effect of the stories, but it’s certainly something that will stay with you for a long, long time.

It was interesting for me, I could also feel the bodies and the presence, I could feel when someone sat on the floor, or stood up, I would listen to that, so I felt like different layers of listening, because I was listening to the story, but I was also listening to steps that were not part of the recording…

I think it was really interesting to listen to, I’m very heartbroken. I think that, how the whole installation starts with the sound of rain or just an environment, that´s surrounding them or surrounding the stories, brings you to another place, together with the installation and the construction of the installation. Where we don’t know where we are, we are just hiding almost, we don’t know if something else is going to happen, also in the room, interaction.

Note: A report on this project can be found here:

Sotelo Castro, Luis C. 2020. ‘Not being able to speak is torture: performing listening to painful narratives’. International Journal of Transitional Justice, Special Issue Creative Approaches to Transitional Justice: Contributions of Arts and Culture. (forthcoming)

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