Long Live the Dead Queen

Mary Sibande, a South African artist, is one of the sharpest visual critics I’ve seen in a long time. In her latest series, “Long Live the Dead Queen,” she takes a look at a popular, persistent portrayal of black women in South African society — as the ever faithful maid — and then subverts those images in gloriously stunning ways.

The images are featured on billboards and sides of buildings as large murals throughout Johannesburg. Sibande originally sculpted the figures, then took photos of the sculptures, and then had the photos splayed in gigantic scale across walls, photos of women in Victorian-style gowns with layers of delicate, jarringly bright tulle and satin.

An excellent story came out last year about the transportation problems of black women who live in Soweto and other townships and who commute to the rich suburbs of Johannesburg to clean the houses and take care of the children of white families. One in six women in South Africa work as a maid or nanny, nearly all of them black. Despite the country’s considerable progress after the fall of apartheid, too many things have stayed the same. See more of her photos here.

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