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Wednesday, December 26, 2012


(2013 Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art - Mary Sibande. Pic by Adam McConnachie)

The 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Visual Arts, 30 year old Mary Sibande, is celebrated for her practice in which she employs the human form as a vehicle through painting and sculpture, to explore the construction of identity in a postcolonial South African context. A Johannesburg-based artist, Sibande attempts to critique stereotypical depictions of (particularly black) women in our society.

“Growing up, my grandmother used to say I was very talented and creative. I guess that sparked confidence in me,” said Sibande about why she decided to pursue a creative career. “When I had to choose between Fine Art and Fashion, I chose Fine Art because it is more open, and it explores more creativity.”

Sibande obtained a Diploma in Fine Arts at the Witwatersrand Technikon in 2004 and a B-Tech degree from the University of Johannesburg in 2007.

For Sibande, the Standard Bank Young Artist Award means personal growth, and is a validation of the years of hard work and an expression of the appreciation for her creative development and growth as an artist. “It is also a compliment and honour to me personally to be rewarded in this way, and to be recognised for my dedication and focus on my art,” she said.

For her, the body - and particularly the skin and clothing - is the site where history is contested and where fantasies play out. Centrally, she looks at the generational disempowerment of black woman and in this sense her work is informed by postcolonial theory, with the domestic setting acting as a stage where historical psycho-dramas play out.

“I have joined a small group of women artists who have shaped and are still shaping perceptions about women’s narratives,” said Sibande who believes her influence primarily lies within the South African artistic community.

Her interest in fashion has also been apparent from a young age, and is still evident in her art. “I think I realised in matric that I would like to be in a creative environment. I owned a couple of sketchbooks full of mostly dress designs. I designed my own dress and my friends’ dresses for their matric dance farewell,” she said.

Sibande's work also highlights how privileged ideals of beauty and femininity aspired by black woman discipline their body through rituals of imitation and reproduction. She inverts the social power indexed by Victorian costumes by reconfiguring it as a domestic worker’s “uniform”, and thus adding complex notions to the colonial relationship between “slave” and “master” in a post-apartheid context.

The fabric used to produce uniforms for domestic workers is an instantly recognizable sight in domestic spaces in South Africa. By applying it to Victorian dress, Sibande attempts to make a comment about the history of servitude as it relates to the present, in terms of domestic relationships.

Her solo exhibitions include Long live the dead Queen, Gallery MOMO (2009) and later at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown (2010), and the Joburg City World Premier Annual Exhibition (2010) in the inner city of Johannesburg.

Sibande is also fascinated by visually stimulating material like documentaries on history and sociology. “I collect fashion books and quirky erasers,” she added.

“I think this kind of validation is needed and is very encouraging for young up-coming artists, in particular female artists, to be recognised nationally in South Africa for their artistic talents and contributions to South African art,” said Sibande.

The winners of The Standard Bank Young Artist Awards feature on the main programme of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and receive financial support for their Festival participation, as well as a cash prize. For more information on the National Arts Festival, click on the banner advert at the top of this page.