Parodying the Hysteric as a Form of Empowerment in Mary Sibande’s Exhibition The Purple Shall Govern

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In a discussion of selected works by Mary Sibande, the author explores how the artist visually locates a persona, “Sophie Ntombikayise,” she has created within the realm of theatrical fantasy through use of exaggerated poses, dramatic gestures, and extravagant dress. Sibande’s theatrical quotations of the language of dress and use of dramatic poses may be related to photographic representations of the Victorian female hysteric in various stages of a hysterical attack, in that they both evoke a sense of excess. It is suggested that, in works on the exhibition The Purple Shall Govern (2013), Sibande moves from the language of quotation of photographic representations of hysteria traceable in earlier works, into the realm of parody. Drawing on feminist writers who posit that hysteria may be regarded as a form of non-verbal, bodily communication for otherwise “voiceless” Victorian women, and relating this to the silencing and invisibility of the black domestic worker in the South African home under apartheid, the author argues that hysteria may be construed as an empowering form of self-expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-441
Number of pages14
JournalTextile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2017


  • Mary Sibande
  • Victorian
  • domestic worker
  • hysteria
  • parody
  • theatrical fantasy
  • transgressive language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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