Girl Gone Authentic - Dr Esther Mahlangu

Artist and Cultural Entrepreneur, Dr Esther Mahlangu

The younger generation needs to know where they came from and who we are in order to know where they are going.

Born November 11, 1935, in a Middleburg, South Africa, Mam Esther Mahlangu is a renowned artist who paints the colorful language of the Ndebele art for the world.

In her work, Mahlangu clings on to the old traditions. She draws freehand without prior sketches, measurements, or the use of sophisticated paint brushes. Her brilliant two dimensional paintings seem to come alive and communicate to the soul. All this with a flick and a stroke of simple chicken feathers and bundled twigs, which she uses as paint brushes.

Girl Gone Authentic - Ester Mahlangu with her brushes
Girl Gone Authentic - Dr Esther Mahlangu at home

The traditional Ndebele technique of wall painting entailed first finishing a house in cow dung, before decorating the walls with designs rendered in colored clay. When she was growing up in the 1940’s, the use of modern paints was introduced and the colorful geometrical shapes that have come to define Ndebele art also evolved at this time. It was these influences which would serve to inspire her work later in her career. 

African Success, Biography of Esther Mahlangu

Esther-Mahlangu-Standing-Seagram-Pearce
Esther Mahlangu

Gogo Esther Mahlangu’s Art Around the World

Ma’m Esther began painting at the tender age of ten, under the supervision of her mother and grandmother. At first, she would steal moments alone to paint away. Only, it was never really impressive to the elders. Eventually, they gave in and gave her a small painting space on one of the houses, of course hidden away from public’s eye. She persisted and earned her place to the front of the house in no time.

Esther-Mahlangu-Standing-Seagram-Pearce
My apologies to the Ntuli, Chili and Masanabo families for crediting Dr Esther Mahlangu on the British Airways Mural. The work is in fact by the late twins Martha and Emily Masanabo. Thank you Thabang Ntuli for bringing this to my attention, please know that there was no dishonor intended.
South-Africa-Art-of-a-Nation-British-Museum-Esther-Mahlangu-BMW-Art-Car
Nation British Museum – Esther Mahlangu becomes the first non Western person and female to design BMW cars in 1991.
In 1989 Mahlangu was asked to exhibit at Magiciens de la terre, a landmark exhibition held at Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou — her first major international exhibition. Centre Pompidou via Huffington Post ZA
Girl Gone Authentic - Esther-Mahlangu-Sneakers-Travys-Owen
Esther Mahlangu Sneaker Line. Image by Travys Owen

Esther Mahlangu Receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Johannesburg

On April 9, 2018, the University of Johannesburg recognized the now 82 year old Esther Mahlangu’s legacy as a cultural entrepreneur who skillfully merged the local and global worlds through education.

“As a visionary individual, she traversed what to others are insurmountable political barriers. In the late 1980’s, when KwaNdebele and Moutse region erupted in anti-apartheid violence, she [broke] down barriers in her own way. During the time she was invited to participate in the groundbreaking Magiciens de la Terre exhibition [in France], a significant achievement for a black female artist at the time.” Vice-chancellor and principal Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, University of Johannesburg

Esther Mahlangu’s Other Awards:

1988 Radio Ndebele Award
1996 Mpumalanga Sport Premiers Culture Award
1997 Ministry of Culture and Communication, Centre de la Villette, France
1997 Incorporated Village of Hempstead Citation, Hempstead, New York, USA
1997 Nassau County Commendation, New York, USA
1999 Mpumalanga Arts and Culture Award
2001 Radio Ndebele Award
2001 Pan African Broadcasting, Heritage and Achievement Award

Words by Khumoetsile Seamogano

2 thoughts on “Artist and Cultural Entrepreneur, Dr Esther Mahlangu

  1. I would really appreciate it that a public apology is given to us as the Ntuli,Chili and Masanabo families for the false information public in this article in regards with the British airways plane mural as it was done by the late twins Martha and Emily Masanabo who were my grandmothers!

    1. Thabang, thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have amended the article as requested. Please know that there was no dishonor or disrespect intended.

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