For her exhibition « La Ventriloque rouge » at macLYON, South African artist Mary Sibande brings sculpture and installation to another scale in her work from February 11 to July 10, 2022.

Using a variety of characters and shading codes, she has long produced a specialty of sculpture models that demonstrate the veracity of the existences of the ladies in her family and, through them, the everyday environments of black South African women and their place in the bewildering history of a nation based on racial isolation.

The wickedness, established in the existence of weak populations, pushes Mary Sibande to reflect on the staging of outrage, subject of an enormous sculptural and sound installation that unfolds over an entire floor of macLYON.

12528562 « La Ventriloque rouge » : Mary Sibande brings the quintessence of sculpture and installation to macLYON
Mary Sibande, The Locus, 2019 Série I Came Apart at the Seams Impression jet d’encre sur papier Hahnemühle Photo Rag, support Daisec, 200×136cm – Courtesy de l’artiste et SMAC Gallery, Le Cap/Johannesburg

With « La Ventriloque rouge », her first monographic exhibition in France, Mary Sibande feeds these symbols and bears witness to the figure of Sophie, which she presents as her inner change to expose authoritarian, racist and misogynistic separations. Mary Sibande presents the interconnected contrasts, the narrative of her reality is situated, like that of her foremothers, at the intersection of this multitude of types of imbalances that tilt them socially and financially, despite the guarantees that followed the end of racial segregation in 1994.

Mary Sibande explains through her work that the conditions that existed at the time may have given social freedoms, but the political choices that followed prevented true social and monetary improvement for the nation. She points out in her creations that this particularity was not resolved in the long run and that the resulting dissatisfaction and sense of shame led to forms of violence.

Contemporary artist Mary Sibande also makes it clear that while politically the end of apartheid is a reality and a triumph, it has been widely noted that it remains incomplete from a financial perspective. Many underlying disparities remain in a country where, in 2015, the standard annual salary for black families was €6,444, while it was €30,800 for white families. This gap reflects many imbalances, for example in access to work and health coverage. 

Reforms have created a working class and a black elite, but most South Africans, especially those living in the urban areas, experience and feel a real capitulation. These disparities, which are affirmed in more than one journal, have been exacerbated by the welfare emergency. This period has seen an acceleration of pressures such as rebellions and looting, which reflect, past political exposures and weak foundations, the misery of the people who can no longer feed themselves. The savagery, well rooted in the existence of these weak populations, makes Mary Sibande question how to deal with this indignation.

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Particularly set apart by these events, Mary Sibande has considered her exhibition at macLYON as a veritable auditorium of violence, appearing in a formidable sculptural and sound installation where she sees the articulation and the observer of the tensions created and maintained by an incoherent circumstance. It is through color that she gives manifestation to these issues.

In her work, Mary Sibande investigates the suggestive, representational and political power of color, exchanging and layering various tones such as blue or purple.

Lately, red has taken a prominent place in her sculptures and photographs. First covering the bodies of canines and vultures, it began to appear in the folds of the clothes of his figures to finally encompass the entire body of individuals who are currently obvious priestesses.

These shades of red in the exhibition became the image of an indignation. This equality between feeling and color has its starting point in the expressions that exist in some of the 11 dialects and languages spoken in South Africa. In Zulu, the artist’s local language, there is an expression that links the feeling of indignation to a red dog. Mary Sibande was propelled by this specific subtlety given to the language to make an installation where the red priestess shows a multitude of dogs of a similar shade to control and transform their anger.

mac-lyon-marie-sibande-4-1024x660 « La Ventriloque rouge » : Mary Sibande brings the quintessence of sculpture and installation to macLYON
Mary Sibande, La ventriloque rouge

Following the personality of Sophie, who has been accompanying the artist for a long time, « La Ventriloque rouge », not to say the one who lends a word to those who have none, addresses another symbol that re-evaluates the role of artist on a cultural scale and the responsibility we are going to take. The figure further highlights how dialects, which can unite individuals as well as separate them, can resonate.

« La Ventriloque rouge » is set in the current history of South Africa and becomes another section of Mary Sibande‘s work on the theme of deflecting the displeasure represented by the use of red, figurative cut-out canine figures. It was at this point that she would begin to work on this scale, as a true sculptor of history(s).

Mary Sibande

12528561 « La Ventriloque rouge » : Mary Sibande brings the quintessence of sculpture and installation to macLYON
Portrait de Mary Sibande, 2017
Photo Jodi Bieber

Born in 1982 in Barberton, South Africa, Mary Sibande graduated in 2007 from the University of Johannesburg, where she lives and works.

In 2011, her work represented South Africa at the Venice Biennale and in 2013, she was featured at macLYON for the twelfth Biennale of Contemporary Art. That same year, she was the winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, which allowed her to have a traveling exhibition throughout South Africa. Her work is in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas and in many public collections around the world.

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Mary Sibande has exhibited in such universally prominent museums as the Kiasma Museum in Helsinki, Finland, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the Museum Beelden aan Zee in The Hague, The Netherlands, the Whitworth Museum in Manchester, UK, the British Museum in London and Somerset House in London in 2020…

Born at a pivotal moment in South African history, during the transition to the end of racial segregation. She lived her childhood in a humble community five hours east of Johannesburg. As a child, she already had a ton of collector’s books and drawings, and during her college years, she simply had to become a fashion designer and couldn’t stop! Anyway, in college she chose art over fashion design.

In her work, Mary Sibande explored personality development in South African culture with the character of Sophie, her alter ego, the model of a black housekeeper during apartheid, propelled by her own set of experiences, as some women were domestic workers.

From blue to red, she evolved her work in patterns of representative tones, continually letting Sophie’s personality and her work uniform shine through.

Sophie’s name inevitably reviews the law during apartheid, which required young people to have a Christian/Western name in order to attend school. Mary Sibande coordinates Sophie‘s nonexistent life in a series of sculptures fashioned directly from her own body. Her eyes are regularly closed, allowing Sophie to escape a dark life through dreams.

Mary Sibande represents the state of women of color and gives them power, strength and respect. Between proximity and political history, Sophie can exemplify any individual who feels associated with her. Today, she adopts an evolving color cycle in her work. In her early works, the character of Sophie wears huge dresses whose tone is reminiscent of the uniforms of domestic workers, one of the few exceptional positions that black South African women could occupy.

At the same time, the excessive display of tulle and chiffon in these outfits evokes the Victorian crinolines worn by privileged white women in nineteenth-century British South Africa. By bringing together two restrictive worlds in these outfits, Mary Sibande creates the body and the article of clothing a space from which she can reorganize the history of South Africa from her own perspective.

By switching to purple, Sophie’s personality is transformed into a hybrid figure, enlivened by the progressive soul of the last long periods of racial segregation.

In works such as « A Terrible Beauty is Born », shown at the Lyon Biennale in 2013, purple represents the grandeur, contentment and power of another world. It also alludes to a march for equal opportunity held in Cape Town in 1989. A sort of echo of the demonstration where the police sprayed dissidents with purple color so that they could be recognized and captured effectively.

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On this occasion, purple became a way for her to take responsibility for what was denied to people of color. A kind of color of honor, here her alter ego is no longer « Sophie », her body is deconstructed and gives birth to animals. Under the presence of natural structures, these animals come out of the womb of the lady, summoning both the maternity and the personality of the woman who carries life.

It is by being inspired by her pregnancy that Mary Sibande makes this new person, these animals and this universe at once dull, colorful and ornate before moving to red in 2019 to symbolize a strong figure. With movements further enhanced by the natural structures that emerge from her body, “Sophie” is encircled by a bevy of red canines.

Since then, the red has gradually attacked his new sculptures and photos to dress the new symbols of Sophie became priestess.

Mary Sibande acquires from the strict and shamanic language a jargon that gives this new emphasis an almost extraordinary power. Red is for her a solid image of the fury, disdain and dissatisfaction that really mark the South African environment today.

According to her, while the majority of blacks have gained social equality, the political choices that have followed have prevented real social and monetary improvement in the country; the white minority retains control of the economy, leaving the vast majority of the black population in dire straits.


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