I'm a lady by Mary Sibande.
I'm a lady by Mary Sibande.
Image: Supplied

Strauss & Co presents the fourth in a series of exhibitions pairing South African artists with Dream Invisible Connections. A large range of works, many on loan from private and institutional collections, will showcase the synergies, linkages and commonalities between Mary Sibande and Dorothy Kay.

The well-received exhibition series has sparked important discourse in the art and collecting world as contemporary and diverse artists are compared and contrasted with those of yesteryear. Previous editions included Louis Maqhubela and Douglas Portway (2019), Maggie Laubser and Gladys Mgudlandlu (2020) and Robert Hodgins and George Pemba (2021). Strauss & Co’s dedicated gallery in their Houghton offices will present the exhibition from July 11 until August 12. Art specialists Qrisha Maharaj and Wilhelm van Rensburg are the curators.

“The possibly unexpected pairing of Dorothy Kay with Mary Sibande fulfils the mandate of the exhibition series by providing new frameworks for the appreciation and interpretation of important South African artists,” says Strauss & Co’s head curator Wilhelm van Rensburg in the press release. “The exhibition proposes new ways of interpreting Sibande’s various depictions of her iconic domestic worker alter ego, Sophie, and, in the case of Kay, of delineating connections between her virtuoso realist painting.”

Dorothy Moss Kay was born in Ireland in 1886 and lived to 1964 and was a member of the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists (RBC). Kay’s portraiture was stylistically mature with gentle lines and a muted palette. Her work was socially representative and avoided social critique; her style, and ethos, have as such been considered of a “South African temperament”. Kay was staunchly against to the imported modernist styles of the 50s and 60s, and clashed with her contempories, the likes of Irma Stern. Several historically important oils, including The Elvery Family: A Memory (1938) and Commerce (1943) will represent Kay.

Portrait of Cookie Annie Mavata by Dorothy Kay.
Portrait of Cookie Annie Mavata by Dorothy Kay.
Image: Supplied

Mary Sibande was born in 1982 and is a multidimensional artist whose work focuses on the reclamation of the black female body in postapartheid SA. Rewriting  legacies of domestic work, Sibande uses alter-egos, counter-histories and appropriation of Victorian symbolism to create a politically charged and empathetically sensitive body of work. The overlooked and misrepresented are given a plinth to be viewed as the spectacular and esteemed, while the mundane is given spirituality and depth.

Sibande’s unique and internationally acclaimed subversion takes power away from western ideals and stereotypes and gives a necessary representation to the marginalised through her rich perspective and representation of white supremacy, servitude and power dynamics. The exhibition will feature a number of photographic prints and a new series of figurative bronzes on loan from the SMAC Art Gallery.

The artists within their vastly contrasting perspectives, and loaded historical context, are showcased together, inviting patrons to pause, ponder and critique. Kay’s well-known realist portrait of her Xhosa cook in the 1956 Cookie, Anna Mavata shares affinities with Sibande’s work. Kay’s domestic cook with her blue-and-white uniform is transported, yet eschewed, by Sibande’s alter-egos.

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