Esther Mahlangu’s gift to the World: The Geometry of Now

The Art Momentum
Dr. Esther Mahlangu’s monumental works immediately summon the viewer to the Melrose Gallery’s booth in the Investec Cape Town Art Fair’s PAST/MODERN section (guest-curated by João Ferreira).


There is something mysteriously compelling about the artist’s geometric symbols, symmetry, and lively palette of colours, animating both the fourpanel 3.6 x 2.4 metre painting, and the multi-panel installation piece on show. Like all of Mahlangu’s work, the motifs are rooted in Ndebele culture, but speak across cultures using the visual language of shape, size, reflection, tension, repetition, colour, and contrast. It is effectively the 84-year-old artist’s mastery of the visual as an expression of meaning that allows her art to transcend the series of binarisms implicit in modernist ideology – such as tradition versus modernity, the local versus the global, or the West versus the rest – leading us instead to a created, holistic, virtual space in which such divisions are meaningless. As the artist herself states, “When I am painting, my heart is very wide. It reaches out to everything and everyone.”


The Ndebele-based universal language draws in spectators regardless of their heritage, urging them to learn more about the artist and her work. It is then we discover that, painting from the age of ten under the tutelage of her mother and grandmother, Dr. Esther Mahlangu has dedicated her life to keeping alive the female tradition of mural painting central to Ndebele identity and culture. The octogenarian effectively teaches the art to both girls and boys in Mabhoko in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, where she lives and works, in between travelling the world with her art. A pioneer of carrying Ndebele art forward into the future in both Africa and beyond, Mahlangu has expanded the genre exponentially. Being the first artist to have transmitted Ndebele motifs to canvas, the artist’s unique designs have also appeared on various other materials and artefacts, including BMW cars and a British Airways airplane.



An article by Valerie Behiery
3 Mar 2020