SIBANDE IS THE PURPLE QUEEN OF ART & SHE IS BREAKING
“Chance” is what led the 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist winner, Mary Sibande, to enrol for a visual arts degree at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) after she missed her fashion design registration.“I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was in high school but I ended up not choosing fashion,” she says. “I didn’t apply for it on time, so I chose fine arts and I think it was the best decision I ever made.”
A decade later, Sibande is making waves in the art world of Mzansi. LIVE profiles this dynamic and talented woman, to see what inspires her work. As she is an inspiration to the youth of Mzansi, especially to the art and design communities.
Sibande was born in Mpumalanga and grew up in Johannesburg. She obtained an Honours degree in Visual Arts and has since made a name for herself as an artist.
Sibande is known for the construction of mannequins, of black, female domestic worker dressed in the garb of a Victorian maid. As well, for the militaristic khaki dress of Church of Zion worshippers.
She told City Press in a interview, “Faith and fashion have always been areas of interest for me.”
The famous mannequin, named Sophie, is Sibande’s most popular art work. It was inspired by Sibande’s line of women from her grandmother, and mother, who are both domestic workers. Her signature colour she uses to dress Sophie is purple because she believes purple is colour of royalty.
“The royalty of England wore purple, if they were meeting an important person. Purple dye was expensive so only the rich were able to wear it. So I thought: “I like the idea that this colour places you”
In 2006, her debut solo show “My Madam’s Things” set the tone for Sibande. Ever since, she has devoted her art to unpacking the social and political hardships that affect domestic workers in this new South Africa. Her expressions are all shown through her alter-ego maid, Sophie.
In 2010, Sibande’s character Sophie decorated the sides of buildings in the inner city of Johannesburg when, to coincide with the Soccer World Cup, 19 of her photographic portrayals of Sophie, in melodramatic poses, were wrapped around buildings in the city of gold. It was, literally, the biggest solo show the town had ever seen.
In 2008, Sibande created Sophie in a new light. The work which is called “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To” which shows Sophie darning a Superman outfit. Her eyes are closed to showcase that she is daydreaming. Sophie’s identity is intrinsically bound by these markers that she is a maid, but her imagination is her escape. Her dress would become an ordinary maid’s uniform.
Her work has also been featured in international festivals in major cultural centres, such as Paris, Venice, Helsinki, Rio de Janeiro and Dakar.
The 31-year-old made a choice to part ways with Sophie at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, as she wanted to grow as an artist. “I am of the mind that the truth has different interpretations depending on the context.” Sibande told City Press that the relationship with Sophie will continue but on a different scale. “The idea is to replace the truth with Sophie meaning I can still speak of Sophie in her absence.”
Sibande added, “The relationship continues, it’s just on a different plateau. Also, I am breaking up the concept to examine it.”
The future is looking exceptionally bright for the Mpumalanga born artist. After finishing her residency and exhibition in Paris, later this year, Sibande will go to Italy for the Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship.
Sibande is an extraordinary black woman, who is breaking boundaries in the difficult industry of art, which is known as “too elite, too exclusive and too expensive”. She is the primary example that shows, if you have passion for art and are willing to work hard, you can make a name for yourself or even win prestigious awards like the Standard Bank Young Artist awards.