Mary Sibande – a sculptor, photographer, and visual artist based in Johannesburg – is interested primarily in questions of the body and how to reclaim the black female body in post-colonial and post-apartheid South Africa. She often works through an alter-ego, Sophie, a sculptural figure who traverses the uncanny valleys of liminal space. Sophie is personal. Her visage is modeled largely after the artist herself, and she draws on the history of the women in Sibande’s family who worked as maids throughout the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. But Sophie is also symbolic, a figure that stands in to speak for femininity, blackness, labour, post-coloniality, and communities on the margin as a whole. She moves in between history and contemporary life. Sophie bears the weight of centuries-old colonial narratives attempting to Other the African woman. At the same time, Sophie’s dress, the familiar bright blue of contemporary domestic uniforms, reminds us of the kinds of subjugation that lingers in our society. Sophie is both real and surreal: her calm disposition is juxtaposed with overflowing, colorful Victorian garb (I’m a Lady, 2010), or she is dressed in traditional maid attire, restitching the hem of a Superman cape (They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To, 2008). Sophie is both active and passive: the static sculpture, eyes closed, is but a still in a moment of glory, wielding a larger-than- life calvary mare (The Reign, 2010) or singing to a great, anonymous orchestra (Silent Symphony, 2010).
For all of the histories of oppression Sibande’s alter ego seeks to critique, she transcends above them, reclaiming her space as a subject in both historical and contemporary narratives. Ultimately, Sophie is a celebration. Sibande says, “My work is not about complaining about Apartheid, or an invitation to feel sorry for me because I am black and my mothers were maids. It is about celebrating what we are as women in South Africa today and for us to celebrate, we need to go back, to see what are we are celebrating. To celebrate, I needed to bring this maid.”
In 2013, as a part of a new body of work entitled, Purple Must Govern, Sibande introduced the color purple as well as wild, organic, fluid movement to her signature black fiberglass sculptures. Though still political in nature (the color purple is a reference to a march that took place in Cape Town in 1989, where the police sprayed protesters with purple dye to mark them for arrest after the march), this new work was a departure (or expansion) from Sophie, asking broader questions about the dynamism of identity and performance. Sibande says, “The creatures are Sophie turned inside out. They are a look at intestines, an inspection of the mess within. This work is about deconstructing the familiar ideas built into my work. In other words, questioning what Sophie, the character, had dreamt of…In the process of letting go of older ideas of my work, I am opening doors for new challenges.”
Name Mary Sibande
Date Sat 19 Aug 10:30