Mary Sibande South Africa, b. 1982


Mary Sibande is a South African sculptor, painter, and installation artist whose work interrogates the intersections of race, gender, and labor in South Africa, while actively rewriting her own family’s legacy of forced domestic work under the Apartheid state.


Sibande employs the human form as a vehicle for her focused critiques of stereotypical depictions of Black women in South Africa. Understanding the body as a site where history is contested and where an artist’s fantasies can play out, Sibande constructs counter-historical narratives in which her alter-ego, a persona by the name of Sophie, is the central protagonist.


Sibande creates sculptural depictions of Sophie dressed in various uniforms that signify the cultural roles she is taking on. Her outfits mobilize color as a vehicle for meaning and context. In Sophie’s “Blue Phase,” she is seen in blue and white outfits typical of those worn by domestic workers in South Africa. In her “Purple Phase”—inspired by South Africa’s notorious Purple Rain Protest—Sophie is dressed in elegant, Victorian garments suggestive of power and influence. In her “Red Phase,” Sophie’s outfits take on a warrior countenance, as she has now entered a stage of evolution defined by righteous anger.


Via these coded motifs, Sibande reanimates Sophie’s history through the ways her body is adorned, and allows her to occupy the narratives that were stolen from and denied to Black women in the past. 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. 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.


Based in Johannesburg, Sibande has taken part in the 2011 Venice Biennale as the representative of South Africa; Lyon Biennial; Dakar Biennial; and Havana Biennial, among others. She has exhibited internationally in leading museums, including the Met Breuer, New York, USA; British Museum, London, UK; Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa; JAG (Johannesburg Art Gallery), Johannesburg, South Africa; Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston, USA; Musée d’art Contemporain de Lyon, France; 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; and Somerset House, London, UK; the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, TN; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; among others. In 2021, Sibande received the prestigious Helgaard Steyn Prize for her sculpture In the Midst of Chaos, There Is Opportunity. Sibande’s works are included in prominent collections internationally, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC, USA; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, USA; Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, USA; UMMA (University of Michigan Museum of Art), Ann Arbor, USA; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, USA; Zeitz MOCCA, Cape Town, South Africa; Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, France; and Iziko South African Museums, Cape Town, South Africa. Forthcoming exhibitions include Mary Sibande: Blue Red Purple at the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, USA, and her work is currently on view at Frac Nouvelle-Aquitaine MÉCA in Bordeaux, France.