Mary Sibande: Sophie tells us about red

Nomvelo Mkhwanazi, Independant Online, June 11, 2022


Durban - Through her imposing sculptures and life-like photographs, Mary Sibande unravels the roles of South African women as individuals and through race, gender and class inequality.


Raised by her grandmother and mother, both domestic workers, and her father, a soldier in the South African army, Sibande uses the camera and body casting to explore identity in a post-colonial South African context.


Sibande introduced Sophie, a life-size sculpted avatar, modelled in her own image, to depict her personal experiences through apartheid and stereotypical descriptions of women, especially black women.


“My work is centred around an alter ego or avatar named Sophie. Naming her ‘Sophie’ was a reminder that during colonial times, slavery and apartheid, black children were given names that were easy for white Europeans. This naming practice was also aimed at suppressing cultural identity and to convert natives to Christianity,” said Sibande.


Mary Sibande’s latest exhibition, Let Me Tell You About Red features Sibande’s phenomenal and memorable large-scale installations which personify the colours of bruising – blue, purple and more recently red. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)


“This was maintained and transformed by the apartheid institution. The structure of apartheid was for the sole purpose of denying and depriving blacks of rights to access to quality housing, employment, franchise etc. Bantu education was introduced during apartheid. It was a system with an inferior curriculum,” said Sibande.


“What motivated me was my personal history. I come from a lineage of domestic workers. From my great-grandmother to my mother. I am paying homage to these women who worked hard in taking care of their families.”


Sibande is inspired by the power of the imagination through which one is able to master one’s own narrative, despite the odds.


Through her garments, Sophie shows life as a contemporary black South African woman as she navigates the barrage of daily challenges.


Mary Sibande’s installations are demonstrated through her alter-ego, Sophie, a life-size, mannequin made in Sibande’s likeness. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)


“The blue-coloured fabric signifies servitude. So, Sophie is not a static figure, her story is continuous, she emerges out of apartheid in the blue uniforms and enters other phases of purple and, currently, red.


“The show at Durban Art Gallery is titled ‘Let Me Tell You About Red’. It explores the Red body of work, speaks of emotions and how crucial emotions are in human existence,” said Sibande.


Red is to demonstrate the impotent rage felt by many South Africans at democracy’s failure to improve the appalling living conditions of the majority of its citizens, and of the ongoing poverty and festering social, economic and racial divisions.


The show is a combination of sculpture and photographic prints and took about three months to plan.


Born in 1982 in Barberton, Sibande graduated from the University of Johannesburg in 2007. In 2013 she won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, part of the prize for which was a touring exhibition across the country. Sibande’s work has been exhibited in the South African pavilion of the Venice Biennale (2010); the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town (2010); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro (2011); the Lyon Biennale (2013); The British Museum (2016); and The MET Breuer, Metropolitan Museum of Art (2018).

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