Esther Mahlangu

Esther Mahlangu is a South African artist from the Ndebele nation, South Africa born on 11th November 1935. She is an icon of contemporary African Art known for her bold large-scale contemporary paintings that reference her Ndebele heritage. Esther Mahlangu’s contemporary African art references patterns found in clothing and jewelry of the Ndebele people.The patterns she uses are typically large in scale and are very colorful and geometric.

Mahlangu first gained international attention in 1989 at a European art exposition titled Magiciens de la terre (Magicians of the World). Later in 1991, she was commissioned by BMW to create an art car, as other BMW Art Car creators had done before (including Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Frank Stella). The car, a BMW 525i, was the first “African Art Car” and was painted with typical motifs of the Ndebele tribe. Esther Mahlangu was the first non-Western person and female to design one of these art cars. The car was later exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC in 1994. It was also exhibited at the British Museum, London in 2017.

Esther Mahlangu follows a local tradition through which this particular type of painting technique is handed down in the family, communicated, learned and transmitted only by women (in the past). These paintings are closely connected with the ancient tradition of decorating the houses on the occasion of the rite of passage for boys. 

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