Mary Sibande 

Sophie/Elsie is part of a series in which South African artist Mary Sibande (b. 1982) explores her family’s history.

Three generations of Sibande women were employed as domestic workers in Apartheid South Africa, which Sibande references through Sophie’s blue and white uniform—a dress synonymous with the profession there. Though not quite part of the born-free generation (the name given to children born after the start of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in 1994), Sibande was able to dream of life choices that were inaccessible to her ancestors. These dreams are acted out by her alter-ego Sophie, a life-size fiberglass figure cast in the artist’s own likeness.

About Sophie/Elsie

Sibande created Sophie/Elsie in 2009 in honor of her great-grandmother, who was given the Western name Elsie because her masters couldn’t be bothered to learn her African name. While closing her eyes, Sophie imagines herself as an orchestra conductor, as a superhero, as a businesswoman. Here, her maid’s uniform transforms into the dress of a Victorian queen, complete with billowing cape and dramatic train.

Mary Sibande, Sophie/Elsie, 2009, lifesize fiberglass mannequin and cotton textile. Museum purchase made possible by Joseph and Annette Allen. © Mary Sibande

Meet the Artist

Watch a round table discussion with Mary Sibande and a group of British women discussing Sibande’s work and inspirations. Hear how Sophie came to be, how she has evolved over the years, and how the work’s story intersects with Sibande’s own journey. The film was produced as part of Sibande’s recent exhibition at Somerset House in London.

UMMA is proud to be able to share Sophie/Elsie with our community. Eventually, she will take center stage in a reinstallation of the permanent African galleries, opening in fall 2021. The reinstallation will feature UMMA’s historical collection of African art, as well as recent acquisitions of contemporary artworks from artists based in Africa and in the diaspora.

Preview UMMA’s African Galleries Re-Installation


Sophie/Elsie is a museum purchase made possible by Joseph and Annette Allen.

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