Madame CJ Walker was perhaps the first wealthy black woman in America, and (regardless of race) is regarded as the first female self-made millionaire in America. Born just after the end of the Civil War, Walker made her fortunes in cosmetics and hair-care products, especially for black skin & hair. Walker was also a tremendous philanthropist and patron of the arts. This sculpture depicts Mary's alter-ego, Sophie, dressed in the rich blue uniform of a South African domestic worker, unraveling a long braid which ties back to a portrait of Walker. Like much of Sibande's work, there's a dreamy ambiguity to the work, a flood of associations emerging. The "narrative" of hair care is essentially nature to the day-to-day requirements of a domestic worker, but there's larger symbolic associations of "ties" or connections which elevates the work. Ties that bind, social ties, DNA strands, umbilical cords, complications being knots, integrations called braids. Kobo Abe once mused that the two earliest human technologies (or perhaps, types of technology) must have been the stick and the rope; the stick keeps things away, the rope keeps things close. Here, we see hair as a literal tie connecting two women of color in different circumstances, in different countries, but nevertheless connected.
Artist Biography Mary Sibande (b. 1982, South Africa) 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); and Somerset House, London, as part of the 2019 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.
Sibande’s works are included in prominent collections internationally, including Toledo Museum 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.