RICHMOND — Esther Mahlangu is barely taller than the third-grade students who gathered around her for a photo op in front of her boldly colored geometric mural. Taking a break from painting, Mahlangu smiled and giggled with the students and admired the pencil drawings they made of her mural’s Ndebele design.
Still spry at 78, Mahlangu was working in her Ndebele garb — including metal rings around her neck, wrists and legs, beaded apron and beaded headbands in her close-cropped hair. Her old-school approach is part of her mission to keep her people’s customs alive. (Her one concession to comfort is her pair of black sneakers.)
“I want the children and everyone to preserve it and to learn it,” Mahlangu said through interpreter and assistant Grace Massango.
For Mahlangu, making new art is all about preserving the past.