An engagement with Dr Mahlangu’s contemporary art practice

Reviews, News
18 Mar 2020

Thinking and writing about Dr Esther Mahlangu’s work may finally catch up with the quality of her 75-year long contribution to the modern art of painting. Dr Mahlangu’s image and success as a promoter of the arts and heritage of painting as practised by her people and community, Amandebele has often trumped critical appraisal of her work as a painter. This is in part because she has never failed to or seemed to mind submitting to the demands of the industry of appearing. In fact, she has always stood out as quietly in charge of her own agency in the glare of it all. This has led to her spectacle as an elderly African woman in an exotic dress being foregrounded above her individual ideas as an artist. Her art is too often handled in this language of curios and commercially adopted traditional cultural artefacts.


In her many brand partnerships and collaborations, it’s not only her work that is placed on display but her person too. For generations weaned on social networks and search engines, she is the quiet “tribal” old lady who appeared standing alongside American R&B star, John Legend with playful candour for a brand promotional shoot for Belvedere Vodka. Dr Mahlangu was commissioned to design their limited edition bottle artwork in the colourful style of her “Ndebele tribal art,” as they put it. Many miss that Dr Mahlangu has for over 3 decades, without a gallerist managed a global career that made her into the pop icon we see today. Rooted still in her community, and her “tradition” she has since attracted the attention and company of a litany of celebrities: Usher, Alicia Keys, and Oprah have joined the horde of collectors the seek her work out...Click to continue reading

Written by:  Percy Mabandu

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