Mahlangu, Esther
Born 1935 in Middleburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Lives and works in Middleburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa
As a young girl, Esther Mahlangu learned traditional Ndebele mural painting, which features large scale geometric patterning rendered with extreme precision. Now 82, Mahlangu still employs the techniques that she adopted at age 10—painting her lines and shapes freehand using a chicken feather without stencils or preparatory drawings. Despite her use of traditional forms and techniques, Mahlangu is a resolutely contemporary artist. Early on, she began to translate the traditional Ndebele aesthetic into a more individualistic style. She has cited the realisation that relatively few people would view her mural paintings in her home region as the impetus to adapt her work to other settings. She has since painted buildings in Tokyo, created cars for BMW and painted British Airways airplanes. Today, as one of the few women still adept at painting in the traditional Ndebele idiom, she remains a living link to the history of the Ndebele people while brilliantly adapting her work to a global context. Solo exhibitions include Esther Mahlangu, presented by BMW, Frieze, London (2016) and Esther Mahlangu 80, Univerisy of Cape Town Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town (2015).
Esther Mahlangu, Untitled, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 50 cm x 60 cm. Courtesy Burning in Water |Esther Mahlangu, 'Gateway', 2005 (Image courtesy Museum of Modern Art, Equatorial Guinea)