Sounds Like Her: Gender, Sound Art, and Sonic Cultures

Sounds Like Her proposes to challenge the patriarchal and Eurocentric frameworks that have informed the history of sound art and, to some extent, continue to dominate the scene today. Using sound as material or subject, the works selected – including new commissions – address sound in the broadest sense through voice, language, noise, textures, music, sonic structures and non-sonic materialisations of sound. The result is a varied mixed media project bringing together archive material, audio, painting, prints, drawings, video, immersive installations and interactive practice.

Premiering at New Art Exchange is a new phase of Sonia Boyce’s famous Devotional Series, an ongoing archive project that celebrates and commemorates the contribution black British female performers to the UK music scene. New names of such women will feature on Boyce’s immersive, hand-drawn Devotional Wallpaper display and joining this will be an imposing installation of 100 placards featuring the images of the women from Boyce’s archive, plucked from concert announcements, posters and magazines.

Ain Bailey’s immersive multi-channel sound piece The Pitch Sisters (2012), a polyphonic composition exploring a hypothetical ‘preferred’ pitch of ciswomen, questions heteronormative assumptions on women’s voices. Magda Stawarska-Beavan’s new video Who/Wer (2017) following the meanderings of a male protagonist, blurs the boundaries between gender and languages of narration. Her prints from the Mother Tongue and Transliteration series materialise, through sound waves, the structure of sonorities and words, from the very first cry of her newborn baby to the formation of language and bilingualism.

Christine Sun Kim, who has been deaf since birth, developed her own sonic and visual language employing elements from various information systems – graphic and musical notation, body language and American Sign Language (ASL) – as a means to expand their communication properties and invent a grammar and structure for her artworks. Her drawings and performances unpack the ‘social currency’ of sound and challenge the rules dictated by mainstream society.

Linda O’Keeffe’s interest in the acoustic of ecology translates in a reflection on the impact of renewable technologies on rural and natural sonic environments. Her newly commissioned soundscapes result from a three-year research across Iceland, Spain, England and China. They invite us to listen within landscapes containing significant sites of renewable technologies from hydroelectric power to wind farms and to question their potential detrimental societal or environmental impacts.

A new installation by Elsa M’bala – the only female sound artist in Cameroon, and one of the few artists practicing in this genre in Africa – invites visitors to follow instructions and play rhythmic lines of Bikutsi on a slit drum. Her sonic experiments with Bikutsi, a traditionally female musical genre, echo the work of emerging painter Madeleine Mbida, whose colourful compositions of dancers and chromatic combinations are based on Bikutsi’s rhythmic patterns. In addition, their artwork is presented within contextualising archive material and instruments providing further insights into the curator’s approach to sound. 

Sounds Like Her is a touring exhibition produced by NAE. It has been curated by Christine Eyene (an international curator and art historian known for her enquiry into contemporary African art, gendered perspectives and non-object based art practices), with Melanie Kidd (Director of Programmes at NAE). Sounds Like Her builds on Eyene’s acclaimed exhibition Curators Series#8: All Of Us Have A Sense of Rhythm at David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2015), which presented an original research into the influence of black rhythms in twentieth century sound art, and highlighted their overlooked legacy in the history of this practice.


NEW ART EXCHANGE : 14 October 2017 – 7 January 2018

YORK ART GALLERY : 12 July – 15 September 2019

GALLERY OLDHAM : 14 December / 7 March 2020

Click on any image to view the photo gallery.