Changing the Story: A Review of Mary Sibande at Kavi Gupta



Mary Sibande (born 1982), “The Domba Dance”, 2019. Life-size fiberglass, bronze, cotton fabric, fiberglass and silicone, 157 1/2 x 98 3/8 x 118 1/8 inches

Kavi Gupta Gallery opened its new street-level space at the Washington Boulevard location, offering “Unhand Me, Demon!” by South African artist Mary Sibande. like the inaugural exhibition.

Sibande’s solo exhibition features realistic sculptures, costume installations and photographs on the gallery‘s first floor, analyzing the question: “How do you get rid of negative energies and move forward when you find yourself at a crossroads in life?” The exhibit is categorized and color coded, each examining different narratives. The blue phase explores the issues of domestic work, then transitions to the purple phase which focuses on protest and revolution. Sibande’s most recent work, The Red Phase, explores questions of anger and empowerment.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors first see “The Ascension of the Purple Figure” (2016), a piece created using fiberglass, resin, steel on a painted wooden plinth and purple and red fabrics. The sculpture offers a dramatic yet intriguing presence, displaying an act of protest against empowerment, as she stands slightly leaned forward with her left arm extended and her left leg positioned in front, with her face engulfed in coils of fabric.

Sibande, who is based in Johannesburg, has exhibited internationally at renowned museums and art fairs such as the Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon and I: 54 Contemporary African Art Fair. His work is in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Sibande’s artistic practice is a combination of fashion, history and politics based on South Africa’s apartheid legacy, in which she creates visual narratives that challenge a range of fields – cultural models, gender, race, economy and politics. Her work typically includes a cast of characters, who are women of color. For “Unhand Me, Demon!” ”, His pieces are narrated through a character named“ Sophie ”, described as Sibande’s alter ego.

Mary Sibande, “Ascension of the Purple Figure”, 2016. Fiberglass, resin, fabric and steel on painted wood base, 111 3/4 x 39 3/4 x 39 3/4 inches

In another space of the gallery, photographs such as “Admiration of the Purple Figure” (2013), place “Sophie” in a theatrical vignette. She is wearing an opulent purple dress surrounded by purple creatures. The play refers to the Purple Rain protests in South Africa, where a new generation of civil rights activists have formed.

Sibande’s work captures the history and stereotypes endured by black women in South Africa while simultaneously rethinking their past, present and future. Her work is often shown in theater tableaux where Sibande wears her costumes and interprets the story of women who have resisted stereotypes of domestic workers or victims of imperialism in South Africa.

The “Sophie” and Sibande colors worn are symbols of culture, history and emotion. Reds and purples represent the colors worn by the royal family, while the blue and white dresses are reminiscent of traditional clothing worn by South African domestic workers.

In addition to the sculptures and installations, there is a short documentary film on Sibande, deepening its practice and methodology and giving visitors a glimpse into the warm nature of Sibande. (Hadia Shaikh)

“Mary Sibande: Free me, demon!” Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 West Washington, until July 31.


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