[My] work addresses ideas of binary opposites of ‘power and weakness,’ ‘effort and the lack thereof,’ but also complicated by ways of representing this conundrum.
In her work Mary Sibande investigates issues of race, class, and power in post–Apartheid South Africa. Rubber Soul is the last in a series depicting Sibande’s semi-autobiographical character Sophie, a South African maid. Sophie tends to appear as a matte black mannequin with her eyes closed, dressed seemingly both as a maid and a Victorian madam. The ambiguity of costume is a way for Sibande to question the overly simplistic dichotomies of servant versus mistress and black versus white, while asserting the power of fantasy and self–fashioned identity.
The khaki fabric and brass buttons of Sophie’s dress are associated with the characteristic suits of male members of the South African Zionist Christian Church, as are the white, rubber–soled shoes and Sophie’s jumping action, part of male churchgoers’ praise rituals. By wearing these clothes and engaging in this forbidden activity, Sophie is directly and powerfully challenging gender norms.