African Success - Back to the homepage RSS | TWITTER | VERSION FRANCAISE VERSION FRANCAISE    
Presentation Database of successful African personalities Honorary members Offshoot africans Shout Videos

Biography of Esther MAHLANGU

South Africa > Arts : Esther MAHLANGU

Click on a picture to enlarge

Born on 11/11/1935 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Esther Mahlangu (Born in 1935) is a South African artist.

Born november 11th 1935 in Middleburg (South Africa).Esther Mahlangu lives in the village of Weltervrede in the Mpumalanga Province. She is a remarkable woman who against all odds, traveled and exhibited overseas in 1989(Les magiciens de la terre), in France  a time when political turmoil at home and sanctions abroad made international participation only a dream for all but a few South African artists.
In the tradition of the Ndebele,Esther  Mahlangu was taught how to paint by her grandmother and mother at the age of 10.
Mahlangu's artistic flair emerged when, at puberty, she underwent the traditional Ndebele practice in which young women are cloistered from society for a few months and taught the traditional craft of beadwork. These early lessons would later serve as training for her artistic career.

The traditional Ndebele technique of wall painting entailed first finishing a house in cow dung, before decorating the walls with designs rendered in coloured clay. When she was growing up in the 1940s, the use of modern paints was introduced and the colourful 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.

As a teenager, Mahlangu became an expert in executing the traditional Ndebele art of wall painting, traditionally only done by women and on special occasions. Through her work, she became well known and began to receive commissions from many places.

Though grounded in tradition, in the course of her work Mahlangu began to evolve, elaborate and innovate on the traditional designs and techniques. She engaged with the economics of the art industry, both to develop and reinforce her roots. She began to transpose these on canvas and other material to appeal to a wider audience. In this process she broke new ground, popularised her work and in turn, was challenged by artistic counter influences.

In the course of her career, Mahlangu's work has undergone many transitions, even experimenting with the use of fluorescent vinyl paints. But as art critic Amelia Pleasant observed at Mahlangu's first solo exhibition in South Africa in 2003, 'she has returned to the natural, muted colours of clays and cow dung that give her work texture, perhaps reminiscent of her early childhood'.

In her work, Mahlangu represents ordinary, every-day objects in the abstract, drawing freehand without prior measurement or sketches, and using feathers and bundled twigs as brushes as in the old way. Pleasant wrote: 'Each time a new glance is given to Mahlangu's mural paintings, the eye dances, swirls, and skips, finding movement in distinctly two-dimensional works'.

Today Mahlangu's work is represented in private, corporate and public galleries around the world. Her village home in Mpumalanga is inundated with visitors from around the world, keen to explore her complex approach to wall decoration.

Beside her own country, Mahlangu has exhibited in Australia, America, Japan and in many European countries. Some of her most famous murals have been exhibited at the New Identities Exhibition in the Bocum Museum in Germany, at the Virgin Atlantic's music store in Times Square, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC and at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg.

Between 1980 and 1991, she was a resident at the Botshabelo open air museum which presents Ndebele culture to visitors. Over the past few years various factors have altered Ester Mahlangu’s art. Exposure to new materials, different techniques and to the collecting art world, has brought about new reasoning behind her work. She has put her adaptations of the distinctive highly coloured geometric Ndebele designs on everything from cars to airplanes. One such example is in 1991 when she was invited to paint a prototype of the new BMW 525i model. Esther's car, eleventh in the Art Car Collection, was the first to be decorated by a woman artist and as a black woman artist from a little-known South African community to be included in a prestigious international artistic line-up of artists including Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and David Hockney. All her international exhibitions have presented her with unique and new challenges, which she has approached, without discarding the constraints of her traditional culture.

Esther Mahlangu has spent a life dedicated to the art of painting and the evolution of traditional painting. She has promoted her people's culture with integrity and sensitivity, and has successfully carved out a career in art.

At 70, Mahlangu still experiences great joy when painting. She continues to present her work in group and solo exhibitions around the world. Mahlangu is involved in sustainable development in her community and trains young women in this art of their forebears. She enjoys the company of her 11 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Mahlangu is the recipient of the Mpumalanga Arts and Culture Award; an award from the French Ministry of Culture; the Radio Ndebele Award (1988 and 2001); the Nassau County Commendation, and the Incorporated Village of Hempstead Citation (the latter two from the United States of America).



1989 Les Magiciens de la Terre, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
1989 Fine Arts Museum, Angoulême, France
1989 Centre de la Villette, Paris, France
1990 Mural Painting, Johannesburg School, South Africa
1990 Bordeaux Festival, Bordeaux, France
1990 Caravan ( trailer ) Auto Show, Lavante, France
1991 Africa Hoy, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderna, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
1991 Ny Afrikansk Billedkunst, Copenhagen, Denmark
1991 Fashion Collection, Tokyo, Japan
1992 Africa Hoy, Cultural Centre of Contemporary Art, Mexico City, Mexico
1992 Africa Hoy, Groninger Museum, Groningen, the Netherlands
1992 BMW Art Cars, Documentra 9, Kassel, Germany
1992 Out of Africa, Gallery Saatchi, London, UK
1992 Comme des Garçons, Tokyo, Japan; New York, USA and Paris, France
1993 Geneva International Exhibition, Geneva, Switzerland
1993 European Inventive Business Travel Meetings Exhibition, Lisboa, Portugal
1993 La Grande Vérité, Les Astres Africains, Nantes Fine Arts Museum, Nantes, France
1994 Out of Africa, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, France
1994 BMW Art Cars Collection, National Museum of Woman in the Arts, Washington D.C., USA
1995 Group show, Market Theatre, Johannesburg, South Africa
1995 BMW Art Cars and paintings Exhibition, Sydney, Australia
1996 Armour J. Blackburn Centre, Howard University, Washington D.C., USA
1996 Exhibition for the Congressional Black Caucus, Washington D.C., USA
1996 Parish Gallery - Georgetown, Washington D.C., USA
1997 African Immigrant Folklife Festival, Washington D.C., USA
1997 Portal to America, Installation, Spoleto Festival, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
1997 Oog op Zuidelijke Afrika, Het Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, the Netherlands
1997 Ndebele Images Then and Now, National Arts Club, New York, USA
1997 York College, Los Angeles, California, USA
1997 Exhibit Gallery, Philadelphia, USA
1998 Africa Africa, Tobu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
1998 Musée des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie, Paris, France
1999 <>FAST FORWARD.ZA, Van Reekum Museum, Apeldoorn, the Netherlands
2000 Dialogue of cultures, EXPO 2000, Hannover, Germany
2000 5th Biennale of Contemporary Art in Lyons, France
2001 South Africa Today, The Helsinki Fair Centre, Finland
2001 Galleria Cavellini, Brescia, Italy
2001 Arte Africana Contemporanea, Galleria d'arte Spazia, Bologna, Italy
2002 The Art of Colour, Knysna Fine Art Gallery, Knysna, South Africa
2002 Passport to South Africa, Centro Culturale Trevi, Bolzano, Italy
2003 First Solo Exhibition in South Africa, UCT Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, South Africa
2003 Dentro e Fuori le Mura, Fabbrica Eos, Milano, Italy
2004 New Orleans Jazz Festival S.A. Stage
2004 Contemporary South African Art, Museum Bochum, Germany
2005 Contemporary South African Art, Johannesburg Art Gallery
2005 Contemporary South African Art, Pretoria Art Museum

BOE Bank, Cape Town, South Africa
Musee de Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie, Paris, France
Bothabelo Museum, South Africa
BMW Cars Collection, Germany
World Bank Collection, USA
BHP Billiton Collection, Johannesburg, South Africa
RE:CM Collection, Cape Town
Pretoria Art Museum
Esther's work is also in numerous other important private collections in South Africa and abroad


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 (Pabha)
2001 Arts and Culture Award, Art Promotion

Last update : 07/08/2008

Update this page

Name :
Advanced research

Art Business Fashion Finance Literature Media Music Politics Professionals Science Social Sport
African Success © African Success 2007/2019 - credits - sitemap - contact us RSS African Success on Twitter
Le Club
Log in:

Forgotten passwordRegister at Le Club
New biographies of African personalitiesRSS

This slideshow requires Adobe Flash Player 9.0 (or higher). JavaScript must be enabled.