Mary Sibande South African, b. 1982


Mary Sibande, born in Barberton, South Africa, in 1982, lives and works in Johannesburg. 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 namely, the 2017 Smithsonian National Museum of African Arts Award, University of Johannesburg’s Alumni Dignitas Award in 2014 and the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Arts. Her work ‘The Purple Shall Govern’ toured South Afri-ca, ending in Johannesburg at the Standard Bank Gallery in 2014. She is the 2018-2019 Virginia C. Gildersleeve Professor at Barnard College at the Columbia University. In addition, Mary 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 engages as an interrogator of the current intersections of race, gender and labour in South Africa; but continues to actively rewrite her own family’s 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 laboured 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 person hoods of African Women who continue to create worlds and narratives outside of the canon 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 in internationally leading museums. In 2010 she took part in the 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 in Cape Town (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2011); the Kiasma Museum for Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Hague, Netherlands (2012); the Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, Paris,-France (2013). Lyon Biennale 2013, Lyon, France; Musée Léon Driex, Saint-Denis, la Réunion Island (2014); Dishman Art Museum, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, USA; The Whitworth Museum, Manchester, UK (2015); The British Museum, London ,UK (2016); Kalmar Konstmuseum, Sweden (2017); Cairns Art Gallery, Cairns, Australia(2019); The MET Breuer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (2018).


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