Mary Sibande

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Mary Sibande

They don’t make them like they used to

Sophie, the fictional housemaid character created by Mary Sibande, not only references South Africa’s colonial past and apartheid history but explores the aspirations we all harbour. When Sophie puts on her work outfit – its blue fabric typical of domestic workers’ uniforms and labourers’ overalls in South Africa – it transforms into a Victorian dress, harking back to a time when women and servants ‘knew their place’. But it is a sumptuous dress too, and indicates that the wearer is dreaming big and transcending society’s expectations of her. Whatever Sophie wants to be can exist in this space, whether it is an influential entrepreneur or powerful queen.

Here, Sophie knits a superhero’s outfit, possibly for her own use. To whom does the work’s title refer? Does it suggest a dwindling of the masculine power that generated heroes from the supposed need for women to be ‘saved’, or does it allude to women – the unsung heroes who labour for others too often? Either way, Sophie appears to be preparing, stitch by stitch, for her moment to fly.

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