Johannesburg based artist Mary Sibande, is the recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art 2013. An exhibition of her work entitled: ‘The Purple shall govern’ will open at the Iziko South African National Gallery on 28 November 2013.
Sibande is celebrated for her practice in which she employs the human form as a vehicle – through painting and sculpture – to explore the construction of identity in a postcolonial South African context. She attempts to critique stereotypical depictions of (particularly black) women in our society. The body, for Sibande, and particularly the skin and clothing, is the site where history is contested and where fantasies play out.
Centrally, she looks at the generational disempowerment of black women. In this sense her work is informed by postcolonial theory, with the domestic setting acting as a stage where historical psycho-dramas play out. “I have joined a small group of women artists who have shaped and are still shaping perceptions about women’s narratives,” said Sibande, who believes her influence primarily lies within the South African artistic community.
Sibande’s work also highlights how ideals of beauty and femininity inspired black women to discipline their body through rituals of imitation and reproduction. She inverts the social power indexed by Victorian costumes by reconfiguring it as a domestic worker’s “uniform” – adding complex notions to the colonial relationship between “slave” and “master” in a post-apartheid context.
The fabric used to produce uniforms for domestic workers is an instantly recognizable sight in domestic spaces in South Africa. By applying it to Victorian dress, Sibande attempts to make a comment about the history of servitude as it relates to the present. Her solo exhibitions include Long live the dead Queen at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown (2010), Inner city Johannesburg (2010), the Joburg City World Premier Annual Exhibition (2010) and Gallery MOMO, JHB (2009), as well as My Madam’s Things at Gordart Gallery, Melville, JHB (2006).