Mary Sibande b. 1982, South Africa


Mary Sibande lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. She obtained her Diploma in Fine Arts at the Witwatersrand Technikon in 2004 and an Honours Degree from the University of Johannesburg in 2007. Sibande represented South Africa at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011 and her project Long Live the Dead Queen was found on murals all over the city of Johannesburg in 2010. Sibande is the recipient of several awards, including the 2017 Smithsonian National Museum of African Arts Award, University of Johannesburg’s Alumni Dignitas Award for 2014, and the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Arts. Her work The Purple Shall Govern toured South Africa, ending in Johannesburg at the Standard Bank Gallery in 2014. She was the 2018–2019 Virginia C. Gildersleeve Professor at Barnard College at Columbia University in New York. In addition, Sibande has been the recipient of several residencies and fellowships, including the Smithsonian Fellowship in Washington, DC, the Ampersand Foundation Fellowship in New York, and the University of Michigan Fellowship.


Sibande’s work not only interrogates the current intersections of race, gender, and labour in South Africa, it actively rewrites her own family’s legacy of forced domestic work imposed by the then-Apartheid state. Through photography and sculpture, Sibande employs the human form as a vehicle for a focused critique of stereotypical depictions of women, particularly Black women in South Africa. For Sibande, the body, and particularly how we clothe it, is the site where 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 work, a persona by the name of Sophie, who is dressed in various uniforms that resemble those worn by domestic workers. Turning these dress styles into Victorian motifs, Sibande reanimates Sophie’s history in the ways her body is adorned and occupies the narratives that were stolen from and denied to her. This is not just a political act, but one of transformation, as Sophie takes on new incarnations of herself unbound from the history of servitude and labor that extends into the present's 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 who continue to create worlds and narratives outside of the Western imperialist canon.


In recent 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. Sibande offers insight into the past, present, and future, interpreting the wisdom of biblical and philosophical texts into personal visions and prophecy. The Priestess represents magic and possibility through ancient cultural practices associated with sorcery, the traditions of which 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 in internationally leading museums. In 2010 she took part in L’Exposition du Festival Mondi-al des Arts Nègres in Dakar, and her work was featured in the review From Pierneef to Gugulective: 1910–2010. Other galleries and events where her work has been shown include the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa; Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Kiasma Museum for Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland; Museum Beelden aan Zee, Hague, Netherlands; Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, Paris, France; Lyon Biennale 2013, Lyon, France; Musée Léon Driex, Saint-Denis, la Réunion Island; Dishman Art Museum, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, USA; Whitworth Museum, Manchester, UK; British Museum, London, UK; Kalmar Konstmuseum, Kalmar, Sweden; Cairns Art Gallery, Cairns, Australia; MET Breuer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.


Sibande’s works are included in prominent collections internationally, including Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH, USA; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC, USA; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, VA, USA; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL, USA; Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, France; and Iziko South African Museums, South Africa.