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Culture | Esther Mahlangu x BMW Art Car Number 12

Spotlight on the tradition of Ndebele art, propelled to international status by Esther Mahlangu.


Back in February 2017, I visited the South Africa: Art of a Nation Exhibition at the British Museum. This exhibition took us on a journey of 100,000 years of South African art and culture.

Esther Mahlangu alongside her famous Art Car

The main piece on display was the famous BMW Art Car Number 12 by Esther Mahlangu. In 1991, to mark the end of Apartheid, BMW invited Madam Esther to contribute to their ‘Art Car’ project, the first woman to do so. Drawing on the traditions that the Ndebele people use to beautifully and intricately decorate their homes, Madam Esther used chicken feathers as her brush, drawing razor straight lines from free hand, and vibrant colours to complete the designs.


Taught by her mother and grandmother, and passionate about her culture, Madam Esther said of her creation, ‘I’ve been making art all my life because it is in my heart and in my blood. I strived to show people from all over the world my work and to tell them my story as an Ndebele woman artist, who against all odds travelled the world… I know that long after I am gone, people will still go and see my paintings and they will remember there was an artist called Esther Mahlangu, and she came from South Africa’.


Affectionally known as 'Gogo' or 'Grandmother' in South Africa, Madam Esther was the first person to transfer Ndebele artwork from murals to canvas. She has worked tirelessly to ensure that the Ndebele traditions and culture continue. Her hard work, dedication and craft has taken her all over the world, and she has a workshop and art school located at her home in Mabhoko, in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa.


In 2018, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Johannesburg, and is now officially Dr Esther Mahlangu.


We salute you Dr Esther!


Copyright of Clint Strydom



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