Mary Sibande, born in Barberton, South Africa in 1982, lives and works in Johannesburg. Studying visual arts, gender studies and business technology at the Witwatersrand Technikon and University of Johannesburg, Sibande’s work not only engages as an interrogator of the current intersections of race, gender and labor in South Africa, but continues to actively rewrite her own families legacy of forced domestic work imposed by the then Apartheid State. Sibande employs the human form as a vehicle through photography and sculpture as a focused critique on the stereotypical depictions of women, particularly black women in South Africa. The body, for Sibande, and particularly how we clothe it, is the site where this history is contested and where Sibande’s own fantasies can play out.
This counter history takes the form of an alter-ego in Sibande’s early work, a persona by the name of Sophie who is dressed in various uniforms that resemble the dresses worn by domestic workers. Altering these dress styles into Victorian motifs, Sibande completely reanimates Sophie’s history through how her body is adorned and the way she occupies these narratives that were stolen and denied from her. This is not just a political act, but one of transformation as Sophie takes on new incarnations of herself unbound from the labored history of servitude as it relates to the present in terms of domestic relationships. Transitioning from blue to purple to red, Sibande introduces us not only to the many faces of herself and Sophie, but to the complex personhoods of African Women whom continue to create worlds and narratives outside of the cannon of western imperialism.
In her newest work we witness Sophie as the High Priestess becoming the space between two realms; between the past and future, between what has been and what could be – she is fleeting, a personification of mystery and spirit which is unknown to the rational world. In this work Sibande offers insight into the past, present and future, interpreting biblical and philosophical texts on wisdom into personal visions and prophecy. The Priestess represents magic and possibility through ancient cultural practices associated with sorcery whose traditions continue into the present day. Most importantly she attempts to exploit supernatural forces by summoning the spiritual and medicinal role inherent to magic and its associated rituals, gestures and languages.
Sibande has exhibited the world over, including France, Germany, China, Netherlands, Italy and the US. She is an alumna of University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture. She was also the recipient of several residencies and fellowships, including the Smithsonian Fellowship in the USA and the Ampersand Foundation Fellowship in New York. She represented by Gallery MOMO in South Africa. Sibande has taken part in a number of solo shows (University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa (2016); Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, Bloemfontein, South Africa (2015); Durban Art Gallery, Durban, South Africa (2015); Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa (2014); Musée Léon Driex, Saint Denis, la Réunion, France (2014); Isiko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa (2014); Dishman Art Museum, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, USA (2013); Spencer Museum, University of Kansas, Kansas, USA (2013)) and group shows (Höhen Rausch, Linz, Austria (2016); Wanås Konst / The Wanås Foundation, Knislinge, Sweden (2015); UJ Arts Centre. Johannesburg, South Africa (2015); Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy (2015); Edinburg Art Festival, Edinburg, Scotland (2014); La maison rouge, Paris, France (2013); The Cat Street Gallery, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong (2013).