Mary Sibande, Gada Amer, and Alice Walton Recipients of the Smithsonian African Arts Award

Art Africa, October 27, 2017

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art will hold its second annual African Art Awards Dinner Friday, Oct. 27, at 6:30 p.m. The dinner will take place in the Smithsonian’s iconic Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. 


“Honor, Inspire and Include” is the theme of this year’s dinner.  The dynamic celebration of art, culture and philanthropy will feature artists, speakers and honorees as part of the museum’s larger women’s initiative—a commitment begun in 2012 and launched as a sustained initiative in 2017 to emphasize the creative voices of African women artists through the National Museum of African Art’s collections, research, publications and exhibitions. The 2017 artist honorees are internationally renowned artists Ghada Amer and Mary Sibande and philanthropist Alice Walton.


“We are delighted to recognize the outstanding achievements of Alice Walton, Ghada Amer and Mary Sibande, three remarkable women whose compelling contributions to philanthropy and art recognize the potency of women to confront globally relevant issues of gender, identity, inequality, access, privilege and power. Engaging our visitors in understanding the aesthetic achievements of historic and contemporary African artists is at the heart of our museum’s mission,” said Christine Mullen Kreamer, acting director of the museum.


Sibande was born in Barberton, South Africa, in 1982. She obtained her Diploma in Fine Arts at the Witwatersrand Technikon in 2004 and a B-Tech degree from the University of Johannesburg in 2007. Sibande, whose mother and grandmother were domestic laborers, was one of the first in her family to achieve such a high level of education. She drew on this history to inspire her artistic practice, particularly through her recurring character and alter ego, Sophie. In many of Sibande’s sculptural and photographic works, Sophie wears an instantly recognizable maid’s uniform to which Sibande adds glamorous references to Victorian costumes. The resulting dresses consciously upend the master/servant dichotomy, transforming laborers into super “she-roes,” conquerors and belles of the ball. Sibande’s work critiques stereotypical depictions of women and privileged ideals of femininity, particularly those surrounding black and African women. Her practice powerfully examines identity construction and power dynamics within a post-colonial, post-apartheid South African context.


Sibande was a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow in 2011 at National Museum of African Art, where her work is also held in the permanent collection. Her work is in public collections in South Africa and around the world, including the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio and the University of Kansas’s Spencer Museum of Art. It has also been featured in venues that include the 54th Venice Biennale and 2011’s Paris Photo. She lives and works in Johannesburg.

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