Esther Mahlangu, ‘Abstract34’, 2017, Amref Health Africa: Benefit Auction 2017


Artist Biography
Born in 1935, Middeleburg, South Africa and she lives and works in Mabhoko. Esther Mahlangu is part of the Ndebele community in the Gauteng, located north of Pretoria. The Ndebele, unlike many other tribes in South Africa, have managed to preserve their centuries’ old ancestral traditions. Despite being a patriarchal society, artistic heritage is handed down from mother to daughter; as a young woman reaches puberty she withdraws from male society for three months and is taught the ceremonial patterns of Ndebele beadwork—in the nineteenth century this tradition was extended to decorative wall paintings, also executed exclusively by the Ndebele women. Esther Mahlangu is an important proponent of this tradition. She draws freehand, without first measuring or sketching, using luminous and high-contrast vinyl paints that lend extraordinary vigor to her murals. While at a glance purely abstract, her compositions are built upon a highly inventive system of signs and symbols. Mahlangu is the first Ndebele artist to transpose wall paintings onto canvases and to take the conventions of her artwork into the larger arena. In 1989 she came to Paris to create murals Magiciens de la Terre exhibition, and by agreeing to undertake further commissioned works for public buildings like the Civic Theater of Johannesburg, for museums, for BMW, for Comme des Garçons, Mahlangu has made Ndebele art celebrated world over. She has stated: “My mother and grandmother taught me to paint when I was ten years old. I have been busy with it ever since and have always liked it. When I am painting my heart is very wide, it reaches out. It makes me feel very, very happy.”

Signature: Signed on recto

Image rights: Courtesy of Dr. Massimiliano del Ninno

Esther Mahlangu Individual 7 series BMW and accompanying exhibition co-curated by BMW and 34FineArt, Frieze Art Fair, London, UK, 2016; Mahlangu 80, curated by 34FineArt, UCT Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, SA, 2015; Esther Mahlangu: An Artistic Residency, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia, USA, 2014; Overlay, 34FineArt, Cape Town, S, 2012; Centro Espositivo St. Art, Calenzano, Italy, 2010; Esther Mahlangu: Reacquiring, The Kyle Kauffman Gallery, New York, USA, 2008; Esther Mahlangu 2007, 34LONG, Cape Town, SA, 2007; Why Africa?, Fiat 500, Turin, Italy; 2007

Njegovanović-Ristić, Nataša, Traditional African Murals, Exhibition catalog, The Museum of African Art, Veda and dr Zdravko Pecar Collection, 2015; South African Art Now, Sue Williamson, Collins Design, 2009; Why Africa Exhibition catalogue. Published by Electa & Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, 2007

Dr. Massimiliano del Ninno

About Esther Mahlangu

South African, b. 1935, Middelburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa, based in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa