Mary Sibande

“The work is indeed a testimony to the power of the imagination. While the developing status of women in South Africa has always been riddled by violence, oppression and hardship, it is through the resilient qualities of hard work, strength, love, hope and imagination that women find the opportunity to ‘write’ their own narratives despite the odds or fate.” – From the judges’ commendation

Internationally acclaimed South African artist Mary Sibande has been awarded this year’s Helgaard Steyn Award for Sculpture. Her work, titled In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity, was considered the most outstanding to have been exhibited in South Africa in the past four years.

The awarded artwork is a magnificent sculptural installation with immense visual impact. Though it’s undoubtedly a signature Sibande work, it also suggests her exploring new avenues in her creative endeavours. 

Sibande het oor die loop van haar loopbaan ’n oorspronklike en persoonlike visuele taal en ikonografie ontwikkel met betrekking tot konseptualisering, materiale en aanbieding. 

Over the course of her career, Sibande has developed an original and personal visual language and iconography in conceptualisation, process, use of material and presentation.

The awarded work, completed in 2017, is a continuation of the well-known “Sophie” narrative repeatedly present in her oeuvre. Sophie is her alter-ego and a reference to the three generations of the artist’s family who were domestic workers.

Sibande used a cast of her own body to create Sophie, in this work an equestrienne figure dressed in bright red battle garb and surrounded by aggressive mythical animals and a range of female figures on hobby horses reminiscent of life-sized toy soldiers. These elements echo her other works such as The Reign (2010) and Right Now (2015).

Sibande’s Sophie works present counter-narratives pertaining to, amongst others, the black female body and female domestic work. It is interesting that Sophie is liberating herself more and more from the allegorical image of a domestic worker that she initially represented. It also represents current explorations of the artist’s increasingly personal narrative made manifest in her art, where the dream world of Sophie the domestic worker in various contexts has transformed into a new dream world: it is an allegory of personal liberation, identity formation, and possibility. While reimagining history, she is also transcending the present and flirting with what may come.

Sibande was born in Barberton, South Africa in 1982, and now lives and works in Johannesburg. Following a diploma in Fine Arts from Witwatersrand Technical College in 2004, she obtained an honours degree from the University of Johannesburg in 2007. 

Other awards

2017 Smithsonian National Museum of African Arts Award 

2014 The University of Johannesburg Alumni Dignitas Award 

2013 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Arts

Residencies, fellowships and tenures

2018-2019 Virginia C. Gildersleeve Professorship at Barnard College at Columbia University, New York 

2013 Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC VAL), Paris

2011 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF), Washington, D.C.

2006 Cité Internationale des Arts Residency, Paris

In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity – 2017

Fibreglass, Resin, Fabric and Steel Dimensions Variable



Solo exhibition, SMAC Gallery, Cape Town

Blue, Purple, Red, he Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee (solo exhibition)

Unhand Me, Demon!, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, Illinois (solo exhibition)

Black Luminositycurated by Gcotyelwa Mashiqa, SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch 

Margins of Error by die NIROX Foundation Sculpture Park, Krugersdorp


BredaPhoto, Breda, Nederland 

Investec Cape Town Art Fair (SMAC-galery), Kaapstadse Internasionale Konferensiesentrum, Kaapstad

Reclaiming Power: Womxn and Intersecting Inequalities, Oxfam South Africa, The Worker’s Museum, Johannesburg

NOW LOOK HERE – The African Art of Appearance, Asterweg 17, Amsterdam, Nederland 

Making of Ourselves, BKHZ, Johannesburg

Radical Revisionists: Contemporary African Artists Confronting Past and Present by die Moody Centre for the Arts, Rice-Universiteit, Houston

Soos Familie / Like Family, Rupert-museum, Stellenbosch


I came apart at the seams by Somerset House, Londen (solo-uitstalling)

Mary Sibande at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery by Columbia University, New York (solo-uitstalling)

Ngoma: Art and Cosmology, met as kurators Musha Neluheni, Philippa van Straaten en Khwezi Gule, Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), Johannesburg

Felix Fair (Kavi Gupta), Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles 

Art Basel Miami (Kavi Gupta), Miami

arteBOTANICA, Nirox Sculpture Park, Krugersdorp

Frieze London (Kavi Gupta), Regent’s Park, Londen 

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair (SMAC-galery), Somerset House, Londen 

To Reclaim (Kavi Gupta), Chicago

That Was Then, SMAC-galery, Kaapstad

My Africa – Our Art, Javett Art Centre, by die Universiteit van Pretoria

N’GOLÁ Festival of Arts, Creation, Environment and Utopias,  São Tomé en Príncipe 

Ampersand Foundation Award, 21 Years Celebration Exhibition, Universiteit van Johannesburg se kunsgalery

FNB Art Joburg (SMAC-galery), Sandton-konferensiesentrum, Johannesburg

Open Borders, die 14de Curitiba-Biënnale, Curitiba, Brasilië

Made Visible: Contemporary South African Fashion and Identity by die Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston

Construction of the Possible, die Havana-Biënnale, Kuba


The Armory Show (Gallery MOMO), Piers 92 & 94, New York (solo-uitstalling)

A Crescendo of Ecstasy, aangebied deur The Mixed Reality Workshop met die samewerking van Eden Labs, Keyes Art Mile, FNB Joburg Art Fair, Sandton-konferensiesentrum Johannesburg (solo-uitstalling)

The Red Hour, Dak’Art: African Contemporary Art Biënnale, Dakar, Senegal

In Their Own Form, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

Shifting Boundaries: A Selection of Works showcasing South African Women Artists of the Past 100 Years, Welgemeend, Kaapstad

Not a Single Story, ’n samewerking met die NIROX Foundation, The Wanås Foundation, Nirox Foundation Sculpture Park, die Wieg van die Mensdom, Gauteng 

Continental Drift: Black / blak Art from South Africa and North Australia, Cairns Art Gallery, Australië 

Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300 – Now), The Met Breuer, New York 

Cultural Threads, TextielMuseum, Tilburg, Nederland

Friends50, Iziko Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Galery, Kaapstad

Extra/Ordinary, met as kurators Ceren en Irkman Arkman, Plugin New Media Section, Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair, Istanbul


South Africa: The Art of a Nation, The British Museum, Londen 

All things being equal, Zeitz-museum vir Kontemporêre Afrika-kuns, Kaapstad 

African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection, National Museum for African Art, Smithsonian, Washington D.C.

Dress Code, Gallery MOMO, Kaapstad

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (Gallery Momo), Somerset House, Londen 

Art on Paper, Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg

Cape Town Art Fair, Kaapstadse Internasionale Konferensiesentrum, Kaapstad

The Evidence of Things Not Seen, Johannesburg Art Galery, Johannesburg

Another Antipodes/Urban Axis, PS Art Space, Fremantle, Australië 

Beauty and Its Beasts, Durban Art Galery, Durban

Identitet/Identity, Avesta Kommun, Verket/Avesta Art, Swede

Deep Memory, Kalmar Konstmuseum, Kalmar, Swede


Right Now!, Woordfees, Kunsmuseum van die Universiteit Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch (solo-uitstalling)

The Armory Show (Gallery MOMO), 92 & 94 Piers, New York (solo-uitstalling)

Different Angels, Höhenrausch, Linz, Oostenryk

Desire, Association of Arts Pretoria, Pretoria 

Re[as]sisting Narratives Framer Framded, Amsterdam; District Six Museum Homecoming Centre, Kaapstad (rondreisende uitstalling)

A Place in Time, Nirox Foundation Sculpture Park, Krugersdorp

Selling the Shadow, met as kurator Ayana V Jackson, Gallery MOMO, Kaapstad

Chicago Expo, Gallery MOMO, Chicago

After the Thrill is Gone, Fashion Politics and Culture South Africa, Richmond Center for Visual Arts, Kalamazoo, Michigan 

South Africa – The Art of a Nation, British Museum, Londen


Barriers – Contemporary South Africa, Wanås Konst Sculpture Park, Knislinge, Swede

Arttextile, The Whitworth, Manchester, Engeland

Between the Art and the Experience, Havana Biennale, Kuba

Twenty: Art in the Time of Democracy, UJ Arts Centre, Johannesburg 

ReSignifications: Imagining the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories, Museo Bardini, Florence, Italië

South African Art in a Time of Democracy, 6th Beijing International Art Biennale, Beijing, China


The Purple Shall Govern, Iziko Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Galery, Kaapstad; Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg (solo-uitstalling)

Where do I end and you begin?, Edinburgh Festival of Arts, Skotland 

Material Self: Performing the Other Within, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, Toronto, Kanada


Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon, Frankryk (solo-uitstalling) 

Mary Sibande and Sophie Ntombikayise Take Central Court, Central Court, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Kansas (solo-uitstalling) 

The Purple Shall Govern, The Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, Parys; Iziko Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Galery, Kaapstad; North-West University Gallery, North-West University, Potchefstroom; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg; Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, The National Arts Festival, Grahamstown; Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Gqeberha, (rondreisende solo-uitstalling)

Long Live the Dead Queen by die Musée d’Art Contemporain di Val-de-Marne, Parys (solo-uitstalling) 

Meanwhile . . . Suddenly and Then, 12th Lyon-Biënnale, Lyon

Say it Loud!: Art by African and African-American Artists in the Collection, Norton Museum of Art, Florida

My Joburg, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden; La Maison Rouge, Parys 

Family Histories, Dishman Art Museum, Lamar University, Beaumont

Sibande on Campus: Mary Sibande Installation/New Work, Institute for the Humanities Gallery, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


Mary Sibande and Sophie Ntombikayise Take Central Court by die Spencer Art Museum, Lawrence, Kansas (solo-uitstalling)

Recent Additions: 2009-2012, Iziko Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Galery, Kaapstad 

The Rainbow Nation: Contemporary Sculpture from South Africa, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Den Haag 

Somehow, Somewhat in the middle of things, Liefhertje en De Grote Witte Reus Gallery, Den Haag

Say it loud, Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, Florida


(Re)constructions, Contemporary Art from South Africa, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói (MAC), Rio de Janeiro

ARS 11, Kiasma Museum for Contemporary Art, Helsinki 

Desire, Narratives in Contemporary South African Art, 54th Venice Biennale, Italië, as deel van die Suid-Afrikaanse Paviljoen

Paris Photo, Grand Palais, Parys

BEYOND Re/PRODUCTION. MOTHERING, Kunstraum Kreuzberg / Bethanien, Berlyn

Desire, Narratives in Contemporary South African Art, 54th Venice Biennale, as deel van die Suid-Afrikaanse Paviljoen


Long Live the Dead Queen, Inner City Johannesburg, Exhibition of billboards on 19 buildings, Johannesburg, The Albany History Museum, Makhanda (solotenstoonstelling)

From Pierneef to Gugulective: 1910-2010, Iziko Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Galery, Kaapstad

l’Exposition du Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres, Dakar, Senegal

Space: Currencies in Contemporary African Art, met as kurators Thembinkosi Goniwe en Melissa Mboweni, Museum Africa, Johannesburg 


Long live the Dead Queen, Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg (solo-uitstalling)


Four Tales, Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg 


Dark and lovely (5 Women), Gordart Gallery, Johannesburg 

I Love you Positive or Negative, Espace Simon Michel, Parys


My Madam’s Things, Gordart Gallery, Johannesburg (solo-uitstalling)

Sasol Miniatures Exhibition, Johannesburg 

ABSA L’ATELIER Awards Top 50 exhibition, ABSA Gallery, Johannesburg 

I Love You Positive or Negative, Alliance Française, Johannesburg