Mary Sibande (born in 1982 in Barberton, South Africa, living and working in Johannesburg) engages counter-historical narratives and the language of dress to animate the stories of South African women and critique western imperialist depictions of their lives. Her artistic practice takes heavy influences from processes involved in fashion design as she tailors elements of the narrative directly onto the characters through their clothes, playing with colour, meaning and coded motifs.
Sibande works with large-scale installations and photography to further enhance the worlds she creates and the characters within them. Viewers are introduced to her alter ego, Sophie, whose many incarnations speak to the experiences and livelihoods of Sibande’s mother and grandmother under apartheid. While Sophie’s blue dress and white doek [headscarf] signify her status as a domestic worker, the artist adorns her outfits and gestures with alternate meanings, transforming her context from an ongoing history of servitude and labour to a grander, reimagined reality within a prefigurative, dreamlike space.
Her solo exhibitions include The Wake, Kunstpalais, Germany (2022); The Red Ventrioquist, Musée d’art Contemporain de Lyon (2022); A Red Flight of Fancy, SMAC Gallery, Cape Town (2022); Past Is Present, Herron Galleries, Indiana University(2022); Let me tell you about Red…, Durban Art Gallery, South Africa (2022); Unhand me Demon!, Kavi Gupta, Chicago (2021); Blue Red Purple, The Frist Art Museum, Nashville (2021) I Came Apart at the Seams, Somerset House, London (2019) and A Crescendo of Ecstasy, The Mixed Reality Workshop, Johannesburg (2018).
Sibande has also exhibited in many group shows, including the 2023 Sharjah Biennial 15; Garmenting, Museum of Arts & Design, New York (2022); TEXTURES, Kent State University, Ohio (2021); Like Life, The MET Breuer, New York (2018); All Things Being Equal, Zeitz MOCCA, Cape Town (2018); South Africa: the Art of a Nation, British Museum,London(2017); and Ideal Narratives in Contemporary South African Art, South African Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011).
She is the recipient of the Helgaard Steyn Award (2021) and Smithsonian National Museum of African Art Award (2017).
Her work can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, USA; and the Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, France, among others.
Sibande received a Diploma in Fine Arts from Witwatersrand Technical College, Johannesburg (2004) and a Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Johannesburg (2007).
WORKS by Mary Sibande
WRITING on Mary Sibande