The Frist Art Museum presents the famous South African artist Mary Sibande


Marie Sibande. I’m A Lady, 2009. Color print, edition of 9/10 + 3 AP, 35 3/8 x 23 5/8 in. (Courtesy of the artist and SMAC Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa. © Mary Sibande)

Mary Sibande: Blue Purple Red, an exhibition of the Johannesburg-based artist’s hyperrealistic sculptures and photographs that confronts inequalities of race, gender, politics and economics in South Africa will be on display at Frist’s Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery on October 8, 2021 in January 2. 2022. In Sibande’s practice, the colors blue, purple and red feature prominently in the clothing worn by models to reflect stages in South Africa’s political history.

“These are not so much ideological positions as motives reflecting emotional trajectories of resignation, hope and anger,” said Mark Scala, chief curator of the Frist Art Museum. “Its characters, usually women of color, engage in narratives ranging from the subversive to the supernatural.” In sculptures and photographs, they are presented in theatrical paintings, reflecting the artist’s experience in fashion design. These costumed dramas tell stories of powerful women who dream of a better life for themselves and their country.

The central figure in Sibande’s work, a character she named Sophie, was cast from her own face and body. She is loosely based on the artist’s mother, who, like many women in her family, had been a domestic worker struggling to survive in the lower half of the economy. In her early work, this alter ego wore the blue and white often associated with maid uniforms, symbolizing one of the few types of employment that many poor South African black women could get. Stylistically, however, Sophie’s dresses, with their Victorian excess, lace, and chiffon, are reminiscent of the chic leisure attire of white women of 19th-century British South Africa.

In conversation with Scala, Sibande expressed the idea that each generation has its own unique dreams. In her work, Sophie, dressed in apartheid-era blue, dreams of transcending her conditions of material poverty; Sophie dressed in purple from the early years of democracy dreams of achieving full personality. Sophie dressed in today’s red dreams that there can be no peace without justice. Sibande suggested that the color of her future work could represent utopia, an inaccessible place.

“Whatever the color of the costumes, the constant will certainly be Darkness, the color of women who for Sibande embody hope and transformation,” said Scala.

Mary Sibande, born in Barberton, South Africa, in 1982, lives and works in Johannesburg. His work has been exhibited in the South African pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2010); the South African National Iziko Gallery in Cape Town (2010); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro (2011); the Biennale de Lyon (2013); the British Museum (2016); and The Met Breuer (2018). She received the Smithsonian National Museum of Art‘s African Art Award (2017) and other accolades including an Ampersand Foundation Fellowship and a Kidder Residency in the Arts at the University of Michigan.

Saturday October 9 at 12 p.m., Artist’s point of view: Mary Sibande. Join Sibande as she discusses Blue Purple Red in relation to the intersections of race, gender and class in South Africa. 12h00-13h00

Featured on Zoom; free; registration required. Visit FristArtMuseum.org/events to learn more. In her photographs and costumed models, Mary Sibande criticizes stereotypical representations of black South African women. She shows her characters dramatically re-imagining their lives, symbolized by fantastic costumes of her own design. Arranged in distinct color patterns, the exhibition guides viewers on an emotional journey through different periods of South African history.

Mary Sibande Image courtesy of SMAC Gallery. © Marie Sibande. (Photo Jodi Bieber)

Sophie’s serene expressions and graceful gestures convey self-control and inner strength. In works such as I am a lady (2009), the harsh realities are momentarily veiled and softened as in a dream. “Sophie’s eyes are always closed – ‘not to see’ is both a symbol of the challenge and the dream of escaping her class and color circumstances. She does not act like a victim, ”Scala said.

The palette then changes to purple, a sign of a political awakening. “In works like A terrible beauty is born (2013), purple symbolizes majesty, spiritual achievement and power, and also refers to a freedom march organized in Cape Town in 1989, at the end of apartheid, ”said Scala. During the protest, police sprayed the protesters with purple dye so that they could later be easily identified and arrested. After the protest, the phrase “purple will rule” popped up in graffiti across the city – a play on the words “the people will rule” in the 1955 African National Congress Freedom Charter. “The incident anticipated the seismic change that occurred with the formation of a democratic government in 1994. The woman in A terrible beauty is born defines the spirit of change and revolutionary renewal after the end of apartheid, ”said Scala.

Recent work is mostly red, an indication of the anger many South Africans feel at the current conditions of poverty and injustice in their country. Like many South Africans, Sibande was optimistic about a state built on Nelson Mandela’s ideals of freedom, justice and reconciliation. Yet despite these lofty aspirations, social instability, violence and class inequalities continue to upset the nation almost thirty years later.

In a 2019 interview with the African outlet Griot, Sibande said: “In South Africa, violence is always around the corner, it is still hiding. I feel like South Africans are angry, that there is something they are not happy with and that a lot of people need answers. . . . When Mandela got out of prison he said ‘No fighting’, but people have spent years learning how to fight. From Sibande’s perspective, the lingering animosity seems like a legacy that can take generations to overcome.

On the picture Right now! (2015), Sibande’s purple-clad protagonist doesn’t wait for change. She dreams instead of more immediate action. “His arm is pushed forward as if leading a pack of snarling red dogs to attack. With eyes still closed, we remember that she is the avatar of a dreamy Sibande, who now enters a state of fury against exploitation, injustice and the persistent disregard for women’s rights, ”said Scala. .

In conversation with Scala, Sibande expressed the idea that each generation has its own unique dreams. In her work, Sophie, dressed in apartheid-era blue, dreams of transcending her conditions of material poverty; Sophie dressed in purple from the early years of democracy dreams of achieving full personality. Sophie dressed in today’s red dreams that there can be no peace without justice. Sibande suggested that the color of her future work could represent utopia, an inaccessible place. “Whatever the color of the costumes, the constant will certainly be Darkness, the color of women who for Sibande embody hope and transformation,” said Scala.


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