Kavi Gupta Gallery opened its newly expanded street-level space at the Washington Boulevard location, offering South African artist Mary Sibande’s “Unhand Me, Demon!” as the inaugural exhibition.
Sibande’s solo show displays realistic sculptures, costume installations and photographs on the first floor of the gallery, analyzing the question: “How do we shed negative energies and move forward when we find ourselves at a crossroads in life?” The exhibition is categorized and coded by colors, each examining different narratives. The Blue Phase explores issues of domestic labor and then makes a transition to the Purple Phase which focuses on protest and revolution. Sibande’s most recent work, the Red Phase, explores issues of anger and empowerment.
Entering the gallery, visitors first view “The Ascension of the Purple Figure” (2016), a piece created using fiberglass, resin, steel on a painted wooden plinth and fabrics in purples and reds. The sculpture delivers a dramatic yet intriguing presence, displaying an act of protest to empowerment, as it stands slightly bent forward with the left arm extended and left leg positioned in front, with the face engulfed in coils of fabric.
Sibande, who is based in Johannesburg, has exhibited internationally at notable museums and art fairs such as Musée d’art Contemporain de Lyon and I:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Her work is included in collections at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Sibande’s artistic practice is a combination of fashion, history and politics based on the legacy of apartheid in South Africa, in which she creates visual narratives that challenge an array of areas—cultural patterns, gender, race, economics and politics. Her work typically includes a cast of characters, who are women of color. For “Unhand Me, Demon!,” her pieces are narrated through a character named “Sophie,” described as Sibande’s alter ego.
In a different area of the gallery, photographs such as “Admiration of the Purple Figure” (2013), place “Sophie” in a theatrical vignette. She is dressed in an opulent purple dress with purple creatures surrounding her. The piece refers to the Purple Rain protests in South Africa, where a new generation of civil rights activists were formed.
Sibande’s work renders the history and stereotypes endured by Black women in South Africa while simultaneously rethinking their past, present and future. Her work is often shown in theatrical tableaus where Sibande wears her costumes and performs the history of the women who resisted being stereotyped as domestic employees or victims of imperialism in South Africa.
The colors “Sophie” and Sibande are shown wearing are symbols of culture, history and emotion. The reds and purples represent the colors worn by the royals, while blue and white dresses are reminiscent of the traditional attire worn by South African domestic workers.
In addition to the sculptures and installations, there is a short-form documentary about Sibande, further delving into her practice and methodology and giving visitors a glimpse of Sibande’s warm nature. (Hadia Shaikh)
“Mary Sibande: Unhand Me, Demon!” Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 West Washington, through July 31.