South African Cultural Observatory

AGE not detracting Dr Esther Mahlangu from her artistic exploits

BY 30.08.19

At her advanced age (83), Dr Esther Mahlangu is still making a significant impact in the world of arts. She was last month bestowed with the award of Officier de L'Ordre Arts et Lettres (Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French ambassador to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud, on behalf of the French minister of culture. Known for her bold large-scale contemporary paintings that reference her Ndebele heritage, Mahlangu was honoured in recognition of her outstanding creative work that is admired across the world. 

Last year she was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the University of Johannesburg.

Mahlangu began painting at age of 10 after she was taught the skill of mural painting by her mother and grandmother following her Ndebele tradition for females to paint the exterior of houses.

Mahlangu's art references patterns can be found in clothing, jewellery, canvas and many visual items used by Ndebele people.

Mahlangu first gained international prominence in 1989 at a European art exposition titled Magiciens de la terre (Magicians of the World). Later in 1991, she was commissioned by BMW to create an art car as other BMW Art Car creators had done before. The car, a BMW 525i, was the first "African Art Car" painted with typical motifs of the Ndebele people. She was the first non-Western person and female to design one of these art cars, which was later exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC in 1994. Between 1980 and 1991 she was a resident at the Botshabelo open-air museum, which presents Ndebele culture to visitors.

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