Hodan Ibrahim

20 Dec 2019

Creative Careers Academy member Hodan Ibrahim, currently working with Somerset House Visitor Experience team, reviews our exhibition Mary Sibande: I Came Apart at the Seams

Viewing Mary Sibande’s first solo exhibition, I Come Apart at the Seams, was an emotional experience. Her artwork voices a riveting tale of the hardship and suffering of African women during colonial times and the era of apartheid in South Africa.

Sibande models her alter-ego Sophie after herself. Through a series of life-sized sculptures and paintings, she displays Sophie's shifting narrative. Her artwork is intended as an homage to generations of women in Sibande’s own family, as most of her maternal linage were women who worked in roles of servitude.

This exhibition celebrates three series of work. The symbolic use of colours is reflected throughout her art but particularly within Sophie’s clothing transitions. We identify three colour stages: blue, purple and red, which mirrors three important stages in South African history which she attempts to reclaim: the rise and rule of the apartheid system, the fall and the legacy of the apartheid.

The first line of transitioning, the ‘blue’ stage, titled ‘Long Live the Dead Queen’ (2009) refers to Sophie’s family legacy of enforced domestic labour. We see two figures; one in the royal blue uniform of domestic workers and the other in purple. Sibande incorporates Victorian elements to the uniform to portray she’s repossessing back the power of free will. Interestingly, it is here I notice all manifestations of Sophie have her eyes shut, as if she is refusing this reality; this reveals a new depth to Sophie’s history.

The works then transition to purple, a colour which symbolises the resistance during apartheid which occurred in 1989. Also known as the purple rain protest due to the dye colour police often sprayed on individuals. The title ‘The Purple Shall Govern’ follows Sophie’s alter-ego. This version of Sophie illuminates gothic, supernatural elements. We are presented with a life-sized transformation of Sophie; trapped, entangled in purple tentacles. She’s wedged into the wall like roots, giving us the illusion she is absorbing power.

The final transitional is red, the colour of passion, anger and fire. In the final photograph she is seated on a high table, she is shown as a priestess and a healer. Her anger feeds her creative forces in understanding to heal; you must feed from that rage. Sibande expresses anger at the daunting social equality, the oppressive social structure that remains although the Apartheid is over.

Sibande’s series of work passes on a sense of empowerment. The exhibition depicts racial stereotypes that have thrived within her home country. She uses costumes and her body as a canvas to explore her story. Her art is unsurprisingly inspirational, raw and intense. Sibande uses her heritage to create artwork that is political and confrontational. It’s self-evident she is not only a pioneer in the South Africa Art culture, she has also made a powerful impact and addition to the British art scene.

Mary Sibande: I Came Apart at the Seams is open until 05 January 2020