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b. 1982, South Africa

Mary Sibande Biography

Engaging with South African history, artist Mary Sibande explores ideas around race, gender, and labour through her art making.

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Using sculpture and photography, Sibande's art practice revolves around her alter ego, Sophie, who takes on a myriad of personas.

Sophie is typically a life-sized fibreglass figure that Sibande creates using casts of her own face and body. The artist dresses Sophie in period costumes, which began as a maid's uniform and later evolved to include elaborate gowns. In a roundtable conversation for her 2019 solo exhibition, I came apart at the seams, at Somerset House, London, the artist explained that she chose a 'Western name' for Sophie as a reminder of the history in South Africa that led Black children to have Western names.

Colour is a potent symbol in Mary Sibande's artworks. Through the colours blue, purple, and red, the artist imagines Sophie as a maid, a mysterious and empowered woman, and a powerful priestess, respectively.

Long Live the Dead Queen

'Long Live the Dead Queen' (2008–2013) is Mary Sibande's first body of work featuring Sophie. It derives from her family history: both the artist's grandmother and mother worked as domestic servants.

Sophie, dressed in a blue maid's uniform—the colour associated with servitude in Apartheid South Africa—adopts different personas as she imagines different narratives. She appear as a lady holding up a parasol in a sea of blue tulle in I'm A Lady (2009). In Silent Symphony (2010), she is depicted as an orchestra conductor, with her massive train opening behind her like theatre curtains.

Long Live the Dead Queen is also the title of Sibande's 2009 solo exhibition at Gallery MOMO in Johannesburg. Receiving critical acclaim, the exhibition led to her breakthrough in the art world.

Sophie the Soldier

Mary Sibande has also dressed Sophie in a turquoise army uniform, drawing from her father's service in the military. Sophie the Soldier appears in multiples, their arms raised or tense from holding invisible rifles. They stand on flat, black bases reminiscent of toy soldiers in such works as Lovers in Tango (2011), where a group of soldiers confronts Sophie the Maid.

The Purple Shall Govern

In the 'The Purple Shall Govern' series (2013–2017), Sophie is dressed in purple and surrounded by soft, purple-tentacled sculptures. Sibande's use of the colour purple is inspired by its association with anti-Apartheid demonstrations in South Africa, when in 1989 police shot purple dye through water cannons to mark the protesters. In the aftermath of what was dubbed the Purple March, graffiti proclaiming 'The Purple Shall Govern' appeared on a city hall.

Clad in purple, Sophie seems as though she is becoming one with the tentacles, transforming into a supernatural being. The photographic print Admiration of the Purple Figure (2013) shows Sophie surrounded by the tentacle creatures, who seem to rise up to her in admiration.

Red also emerges as a recurring colour in 'Purple Shall Govern', bringing to the work its association with urgency, anger, and passion. In Right Now! (2015), Sophie appears to send off a pack of red dogs. This work was inspired by the then-pregnant Sibande's desire to 'fix the world before my child comes', as the artist told Somerset House in 2017.

In the Midst of Chaos There is Also Opportunity

Since 2017, red has been the dominant colour in Sibande's ongoing series, 'In the Midst of Chaos There is Also Opportunity'. Sophie becomes a powerful priestess in this body of work, a figure 'between what has been and what could be'. In The Domba Dance (2019), Sophie holds a heart in the air while two dogs—one with four heads—stand vigilant on either side of her.

Solo Exhibitions

Mary Sibande has exhibited internationally, holding solo exhibitions such as Unhand Me, Demon!, Kavi Gupta, Chicago (2021); I came apart at the seams, Somerset House, London (2019); Right Now!, Woordfees Festival, Stellenbosch, South Africa (2016); Mary Sibande and Sophie Ntombikayise Take Central Court, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas (2013). The Purple Shall Govern, a solo exhibition of her eponymous series, toured South Africa and France between 2013 and 2014.

Group Exhibitions

Selected group exhibitions include To Reclaim, Kavi Gupta, Chicago (2019); Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now), The Met Breuer, New York (2018); South Africa: The Art of a Nation, British Museum, London (2016); ReSignifications: Imagining the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories, Museo Bardini, Florence (2015); Where do I end you and you begin? Edinburgh Festival of Arts, Scotland (2014).

International Biennials and Festivals

Sibande has also presented her works in international biennials and festivals, among them BredaPhoto 2020, Netherlands (2020); the Lahore Biennale (2020); Havana Biennale (2019 and 2015); Dakar Biennale (2018); Beijing Biennale (2015); Lyon Biennale (2013); and the Venice Biennale (2011), where she represented South Africa.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021

Mary Sibande Featured Artworks

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I’m a lady by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork print
Mary SibandeI’m a lady, 2009Archival Digital Print
SMAC Gallery Contact Gallery
The Wait Seems to Go on Forever by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork print
Mary SibandeThe Wait Seems to Go on Forever, 2009Archival Digital Print
90 x 60 cm
SMAC Gallery Contact Gallery
Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork photography, print
Mary SibandeTurn, Turn, Turn, Turn, 2019Inkjet on Hahnemühle Photo Rag, Daisec mount
200 x 135.9 cm
Kavi Gupta Contact Gallery
A Terrible Beauty is Born by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork print
Mary SibandeA Terrible Beauty is Born, 2013Archival digital print
110 x 320 cm
Kavi Gupta Contact Gallery
The Domba Dance by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork sculpture
Mary SibandeThe Domba Dance, 2019Life-size fibreglass, bronze, cotton fabric, fibreglass and silicone
400 x 250 x 300 cm
Kavi Gupta Contact Gallery
They don't make them like they used to by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork print
Mary SibandeThey don't make them like they used to, 2008/2019Archival digital print
130 x 86 cm
SMAC Gallery Contact Gallery
A Reversed Retrogress, Scene 1 by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork sculpture
Mary SibandeA Reversed Retrogress, Scene 1, 2013Fibreglass, resin, fabric and steel
180 x 120 x 120 cm
SMAC Gallery Contact Gallery
Living Memory by Mary Sibande contemporary artwork print
Mary SibandeLiving Memory, 2011Archival digital print
126 x 87 cm
Kavi Gupta Contact Gallery

Mary Sibande Recent Exhibitions

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Mary Sibande Represented By

Kavi Gupta contemporary art gallery in Washington Blvd, Chicago, USA Kavi Gupta Chicago
SMAC Gallery contemporary art gallery in Cape Town, South Africa SMAC Gallery Cape Town, Johannesburg, Stellenbosch

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