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.