Mary Sibande is a leading South African contemporary artist, living and working in Johannesburg. Sibande was born in Barberton in the Mpumalanga province and earned her diploma in Fine Arts from the Technikon of the Witwatersrand in 2004 before graduating with a B-tech degree from the University of Johannesburg in 2007. Her practise is centred on explorations of identity, particularly as it relates to women of colour, within a post-apartheid, post-colonial South Africa.
Sibande first received notable attention in 2009 with the presentation of Long Live the Dead Queen, at Gallery MOMO in Johannesburg. Here, she introduced her alter-ego Sophie, who is the protagonist within Sibande’s carefully woven narrative which continues throughout her oeuvre. Often dressed in the bright blue uniform of a domestic worker (but shaped in the style of Victorian dresses), or depicted as a military figure, Sophie unapologetically challenges Western ideals of women whilst celebrating femininity and blackness.
In her sculptural output, Sibande typically works on a large format, creating Sophie and various other figures on a life-size, human scale. Theatricality and drama characterise both Sibande’s sculpture and her photographic works, where the artist herself is depicted in performance as Sophie.
Sibande’s works have featured in numerous exhibitions both locally and abroad, including in shows at Somerset House, London; The Armory Show, New York; the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg and notably, at the 45th Venice Biennale in 2011. Her art is held in the collections of the National Museum of African Art, Washington and the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, amongst others. Sibande has also been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including the Standard Bank Young Artist Award (2013) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Arts Award (2017).