top of page

Mary Sibande

Artist 16 Mary Sibande Sophie

Mary Sibande is a South African artist who specializes in painting and sculpture uses the human form to explore the construction of identity in a postcolonial South African context. It also sets to critique stereotypical depictions of black women.

Her work developed around a servant character named Sophie. A domestic worker reflected by her family’s history under Apartheid. Sophie’s life is collected and presented though a series of human scale sculptures, molded on Sibande.

Sophie’s working uniform is gradually transformed. Placing Sophie in Victorian clothing comments on the restriction of women in these large, heavy and tightened-up dresses. Her dress is a protest against being a maid, and at the same time it is the façade that allows her fantasies to come to life.

Throughout the series Sophie transforms from a lady heading to a ball, to a Victorian queen riding her horse, to a general leading an army towards victory, to a conductor waving his baton to the beat of a muted symphony.

Sibande says, “My work is not about complaining about Apartheid, or an invitation to feel sorry for me because I am black and my mothers were maids. It is about celebrating what we are as women in South Africa today and for us to celebrate, we need to go back, to see what are we are celebrating. To celebrate, I needed to bring this maid.”

Sophie over the years in Sibande’s has developed bringing forth questions about the dynamism of identity and performance.

I love Sibande’s imagination and how she creates her pieces. Her art engulfs the space and she has truly created a powerful Queen who transcends one space or narrative.

Writing our own narratives is so important and dealing with the past as a starting point reflects the power of those who sacrificed before us.

How she reclaims the black female body is beautiful and so powerful in a land where so many people are learning how to love themselves in post colonial South Africa.

Sources Consulted:


bottom of page