Mary Sibande: I Came Apart At The Seams

Where: Somerset House, London

Pictures Allowed: Yes

Kid Friendly: Yes

Open: Saturday -Tuesday 10.00 – 18.00, Wed & Fri 11.00 – 20.00

Price: Free Admission

Containing selected works from her Long Live the Dead Queen (2008-13) series, I Came Apart at the Seams is South African artist Mary Sibande’s first UK solo exhibition. Sibande explores the construction of identity and delves into untold stories of generations of women in her family. Featuring life-sized sculptures surrounded by a series of large-scale photos, she challenges stereotypical depictions of black women.

Sibande’s avatar ‘Sophie’ takes on personas of migrant mother, grandmother, and her own mother. In doing so she rewrites her family’s legacy. The fiberglass figure of the domestic housemaid is alluring and stands firm amidst opposition. Adapting the uniforms, Sibande reclaims the power and breaks free from the stereotypes of these women in post-apartheid South Africa. The closed eyes of the figure inform her dream-like state in which she is creating new realities. Outside this dream, the fantasy is actualised.


The uniforms transform her into an empowered character, triumphant over oppression, “I regard these women as superheroes,” she says. Enveloped in flowing fabrics which spread and take over, we’re introduced to the women who play vital roles which go unrealised outside of western Imperialism. The striking colours of the outfits represent different periods in Sibande’s artistic practice. Navigating the various rooms of the exhibition, it is akin to 3 slices from a colour wheel. The phases begin with royal blue, making the domestic workers royalty, then purple, synonymous with power and wisdom. The cycle concludes with red, a phase she is two years into. In this phase, she embodies the legacy of the Apartheid. Each body of work is inspired by a piece of history.

Words: Joke Amusan


Mary Sibande, They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To, 2008

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