Mary Sibande, painter, sculptor and performance artist, Johannesburg

South African artists on Sylt

"space, to think about my work"

Mary Sibande, born 1982 in Barberton in Mpumalanga, lives and works in Johannesburg (South Africa) as painter, sculptor and performance artist.

She stayed at the kunst:raum sylt quelle in August 2010. "I like Sylt, its rich nature, the atmosphere and the rich people, who flaunt their wealth", Mary comments and adds: "The island with all  its contradictions is fascinating and it offered me space, to think about my work. My work is concentrating on the shadows of apartheid. My art is celebrating the women, who worked hard to feed their children, their families".

Mary, who speaks Swati, Zulu and English, was eight years old when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. She was about 12 years old, when she for the first time in her life "at home we didn't talk about former times and I went to a white school" - realized the traces of apartheid. "We went to a white doctor, who had two different waiting rooms: one for white people and one for black people. The one for Whites was nicely decorated." Suddenly she was aware.

She matriculated at Barberton High School in 2000 "and then I didn't know, what to do. I liked the idea, to become a fashion designer. My mother encouraged me to go to university." Finally she went to Joburg and applied at the University of Johannesburg for Fashion Design and Fine Art. She got the chance to study Fine Art and her B-Tech degree in 2007. "Soon I was the best at practical work but not so good in theory." But she is curious, really curious. She loves to look behind the "way of life" and she loves to dream like the character she created: The maid Sophie. The body and the clothing is, so Mary, where history is contested and where fantasies play out. She looks at the role of the black women in her own family. "I am the first woman in our family, who was allowed to study. I want to celebrate that. That's the reason, why I started to look back on the former role of my mother, my grandmother, my grandgrandmother. That's why I created Sophie."

Mary cast her own body in fibreglass and silicone to create the character of Sophie, the maid. She painted her in 'flat black,' to stand out like a dark and static shadow. Mary is sewing and designing maid-uniforms from blue fabrics. They are exceptionally pretty dresses. She chose the clour blue because Blue is the coulour of the Sunday uniforms of a South African Christian Church.

Sophie seems to be queens in any of her blue uniforms which look like evening gowns. "Whatever Sophie does its magic." But it is obvious that she is still dreaming Sophie's eyes are always closed. "If she opened her eyes, she would be back at work cleaning the house"; says Mary. But sometimes dreams become true. Mary is optimistic.

During her stay on Sylt she developed a proposal for an UN competition. She was invited by the UN-Climate Secretary (Bonn) to participate in that top-class competition. "I wonder, what will happen."
                                        (Angela Grosse)

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