Colour-coded reflection

2013-09-18 00:00

I WAS fortunate enough to see Mary Sibande’s striking exhibition, The Purple Shall Govern, during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

And from tomorrow until November 13, the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Arts 2013’s extraordinary work can be viewed at the Tatham Art Gallery in Chief Albert Luthuli Street in Pietermaritzburg.

The exhibition, which is in the main gallery, includes an installation comprised of two life-size figures, three digital pigment prints of Sibande’s alter ego, Sophie, and an installation of suspended creatures made of polyester and cotton fabric.

Complex, powerful and thought-provoking, The Purple Shall Govern draws its inspiration from a specific incident in South Africa’s history.

In the late eighties, people marching for equality in Cape Town were sprayed with purple dye by the police, to enable them to identify and arrest anti-apartheid protesters. This act motivated Sibande’s interest in the role that colour has played in the history of this country.

“Colour remains a predominant factor in our social interactions and it continues to play a dominant role in our perceptions of one another as South Africans,” Sibande says.

On a personal level, this new work comes full circle as it connects Sibande to her very first exhibition, where she displayed a figure in purple attire that represented her.

Celebrated for her use of the human form as a vehicle to explore the construction of identity in a post-colonial South African context, the Johannesburg-based artist inverts the social power indexed by Victorian costume by reconfiguring it as a domestic worker’s “uniform”.

The fabric used to produce uniforms for domestic workers is an instantly recognisable 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.

As a young woman, she is also concerned with the meaning of womanhood, especially with respect to perceptions of birth, rebirth, growth and death. She has previously explored Sophie’s identity and history, referring to her maternal great-grandmother, her grandmother and her mother.

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.

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


THE Mary Sibande exhibition, The Purple Shall Govern, opens in the main exhibition room of the Tatham Art Gallery at 6 pm tomorrow.

It will be opened by Professor Frederico Freschi, the executive dean of the Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, at the University of Johannesburg.

Parking is via the Parliament entrance in Langalibalele Street, due to the roadworks in the city centre.

Café Tatham will be open for light meals. Book with Rob at 033 342 8327 or mail

BARITONE Frederico Freschi (who will also be opening The Purple Shall Govern exhibition) and pianist Christopher Duigan, will present a recital titled, Music for Spring, at 8 pm tomorrow. Tickets are R50 and booking is via e-mail at or with Bryony at

033 392 2835 (mornings only).

The recital will feature classic numbers from the world of opera, romantic songs from classic musicals, including All The Things You Are, nostalgic old-world operetta and popular Neapolitan songs, including O Sole Mio.

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