New Africa: the South African artist addressing her family’s past
Mary Sibande’s ancestors could only be maids. Now she uses their uniforms in her art
In the new South Africa, black children could go to white schools, which Sibande promptly did. “I guess that’s where my aspirations came from. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to blend in. But I couldn’t because of my skin colour.”
In her fourth year at university – she went to study fashion but ended up in fine art – her grandmother started talking to her about being a maid. “I knew this, but it didn’t stick. You think it’s normal. All the women in my family were maids. And here I am, born in 1982, and my destiny is totally different and I have this freedom to be what I want to be. But my grandmother, she spoke about all the things she wished she could have been.”
It was this that gave Sibande the idea for “Sophie”, an idealised maid dressed in Victorian crinolines. She had a mannequin cast from her own body and shot it in different poses. “With her eyes closed. That, for me, illustrated the idea of aspiring and wishing.”
I find this so beautiful, the fact that she didn’t occupationally become a maid and yet that family linage show shows in her work.