This work is a representation of the complex relationship Mary Sibande (b. 1982, South Africa) has with her father. Shortly after Sibande was born, her father was drafted into the South African Apartheid-era Army. The Army required him to live in a barracks far from home 50 weeks out of the year. His brief holiday was not long enough for him to travel home. he was completely absent during Sibande's childhood. She only had one picture of him, in his soldier outfit. After harboring anger towards him for many years, she finally came to have compassion for his difficult circumstances. They now have a friendly relationship. This work portrays an image very much like the photo she had of her father, except it is modeled after a toy soldier, and the figure is female, infusing some femininity into the work in order to soften it, and in order to reflect the idea that she sees herself in her father, a literal expression of empathy.
Color is fundamental aspect of Sibande's practice. She was born Black in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982— part of the majority, yet oppressed by the institutionally white supremacist Apartheid system, which granted minority whites supreme political control. Sibande’s mother was a domestic worker—her uniform a standard, blue dress with white, lace apron and head scarf. Her father, dressed in green fatigues, served in the South African Army. When she was just seven years old, Sibande watched as the police turned water cannons filled with purple dye onto anti-apartheid protestors days before national elections. The purple dye was intended to make protesters easier to arrest, and indeed hundreds were rounded up and jailed, yet protestors commandeered one of the cannons and turned it on the governing party’s legislative offices. After the riot, graffiti around the city foretold, “The purple shall govern.” Six years later, Apartheid would officially end, but still today racial inequity is rampant in South Africa. Sibande expresses the frustration of contemporary Black South Africans with the color red, a choice stemming from the Zulu aphorism, “ie ukwatile uphenduke inja ebomvu,” meaning “he is angry, he turned into a red dog.”
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. Transitioning from blue to green 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.