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Mary Sibande: Sophie/Elsie

Artist: Mary Sibande
Winter 2021 — July 19, 2021
Irving Stenn Jr Family Gallery

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.

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.

From the Collection


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