As a child growing up in Barberton, Mpumalanga, no surface was safe from Mary Sibande’s touch – literally, as crayon marks everywhere proved. Fast forward to 2001, and Mary was a fine art student at the Witwatersrand Technikon. That’s when she had an idea for a sculpture that would launch her career.
“I’m inspired by our collective South African history and post-colonial identity, and my grandmother and mother were domestic workers,” she says. “To tell their stories, I needed to make them the focal point.”
And so, Sophie Ntombikayise was born: an imposing life-size sculpture made from scavenged pieces. “Her purple Victorian dress was a protest against being a maid – she wouldn’t be able to work dressed like this – and purple represents privilege.”
A group show at Joburg’s Gallery MOMO followed, and Sophie is now a constant, as Mary went on to exhibit at the prestigious Paris Photo and Venice Biennale. Her work is also in major museums, including Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA and Washington’s National Museum of African Art. Add her 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award, 2017 Smithsonian African Artist Award and an upcoming solo exhibition in 2018, and you have a sense of just how important Mary is to the world of modern art – and equally how important that same world is to her.
“I love that I get to tell stories through my art,” she explains. “Ultimately, art is about sharing views and knowledge.”
See all the 2017 GLAMOUR Women of the Year winners here.
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