Mary Sibande, born in 1982, lives and works in Johannesburg. She obtained a Diploma in Fine Arts at the Witwatersrand Technician in 2004 and a B-Tech degree from the University of Johannesburg in 2007. Sibande has taken part in a number of group shows and workshops.
In Sibande’s practice as an artist, she employs the human form as a vehicle through painting and sculpture, to explore the construction of identity in a postcolonial South African context, but also attempts to critique stereotypical depictions of women, 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 and in this sense her work is informed by postcolonial theory. In her work, the domestic setting acts as a stage where historical psycho-dramas play out.
Sibande’s work also highlights how privileged ideals of beauty and femininity aspired to by black women 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” complexifying 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 and by applying it to Victorian dress she attempts to make a comment about history of servitude as it relates to the present in terms of domestic relationships.