Esther Mahlangu

b.1935
Esther Mahlangu

Biography

Dr Esther Mahlangu is a multi-award winning visual artist, and much loved South African cultural ambassador. She was born in 1935 and has been painting since she was 10 years old.

The bold Ndebele inspired artworks for which she is globally acclaimed grace many of the worlds most respected museums, private, public and corporate collections. Many experts believe that any important Pan African Contemporary collection cannot be considered complete without including one of her works.

Whilst firmly anchored in her traditional Ndebele culture, and choosing to live in rural Mpumalanga, Dr Mahlangu continues to spend considerable time in many of the world’s largest and most modern cities collaborating with museums, art fairs, curators, celebrities and respected global brands. 

She is considered a visionary and a disruptor, being the first person to reimagine traditional Ndebele design in contemporary mediums, and she has painted anything from canvas, walls, ceramic pots, sneakers and doors to cars, aeroplanes, bicycles, motorbikes and skateboard decks.

This has led her to well-known global collaborations with the likes of Rolls-Royce, BMW, Fiat, South African Airways, British Airways, John Legend, Belvedere Vodka, The Smithsonian Museum, Freshpak Rooibos, and many others.

In 1991 she became the first lady and first African to be invited to participate in the BMW Art Car Collection amongst other notables of the likes of David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella. In 2006 she was awarded the Ikhamanga Award by the President of South Africa for excellent achievement in the arts.

In 2016 she collaborated with John Legend and Belvedere Vodka, unveiled the new BMW 7 Series with interior panels painted by her at Frieze London and her BMW 5 Series graced the front cover of the catalogue for the exhibition ‘SA Art of a Nation’ at the British Museum.

In 2017 Dr Mahlangu had a mural unveiled in her honour in Tribeca New York, and in 2018 she received two honorary doctorates from the University of Johannesburg and the Durban University of Technology. 

In 2019 she was appointed as an ‘Officer of Arts and Letters’ which is Frances highest decoration for contribution to the arts, the Department of Arts and Culture published a book in her honour and she received an award from the United Nations in Johannesburg.

In 2020 she became the first artist in the world to be commissioned to paint an artwork for the ‘gallery’ of a new Rolls-Royce Phantom that they named ‘The Mahlangu’ in her honour.

Dr Mahlangu continues to spend her time painting, travelling, teaching and sharing her practice and Ndebele culture of which she is extremely proud.

Dr Mahlangu is represented by The Melrose Gallery.

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