Reinventing Tradition: Esther Mahlangu | Sotheby's

Dr. Esther Mahlangu
17 Feb 2017

South African artist Esther Mahlangu is known for her brightly coloured paintings and murals in the Ndebele tradition. Her work has captured the attention of audiences across the globe, and in a career spanning decades Mahlangu has devoted much of her time to community projects in her local village — teaching young women and girls the techniques that were passed down from her mother and grandmother, whilst maintaining a strong presence on the international contemporary art scene. On a recent visit to London to promote South Africa: The Art of a Nation at the British Museum, she sat down with Sotheby's Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art, Hannah O'Leary to discuss her life, work and bringing her cultural heritage to the world. 


Hannah O'Leary: You are very well known for painting on a variety of media, and your first BMW commission in 1991 was an amazing project. You were the first female artist to be involved in the BMW Art Car project. I would love to know how that happened.


Esther Mahlangu: I was working for the Botshabelo Museum, which is a cultural village for displaying Ndebele culture. BMW asked me if I would be interested in painting a car for them and I said,"of course I would." They told me that I had to remember that the car is all white and that it is a brand new car. I told them: "It's a car and my work is to paint, that is why I will paint it for you."  Straight after I painted it, it was sent to Washington D.C. for an exhibition.


HOL: Let's talk about Ndebele culture. How did you take the tradition of Ndebele painting and translate it in to more contemporary artwork?


EM: The Botshabelo Museum was one of the first big projects where I started working on public installation pieces to show off Ndebele culture. When the Botshabelo people established the museum, they went around the area and selected various artists to participate in this project. There were quite a few women during that period still doing paintings, but they selected me because of my unique style which was different from the other styles in the area...Click to continue reading

Author:By Sotheby's

Article last seen: