This beautiful woman is 92-years-old and lives in a small Ndebele village in Mpumalanga. Esther Mahlangu is an Outsider Artist, self-taught from the age of nine, who has achieved great success with her bold, colorful art reflecting traditional Ndebele culture. It’s not clear, but it seems she never went to school and can only write her name on her artwork. However, she has two honorary doctorates for her contributions to the art world.
Her success was serendipitous. In 1986, researchers from France were roaming around looking for traditional art forms. One road led them to the artist’s village, where they became enthralled by Mahlangu’s uniquely painted houses. Right time, right road!
They invited her to create murals for an international contemporary art exhibition at the Magiciens de la Terre in France. Her obscurity was soon over and she quickly became a phenomenon in the Pan-African art world. Her resume is awe-inspiring. Look her up, here’s one link - https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/esther-mahlangu
I had no idea who she was when an art teacher friend asked me if I wanted to take a journey to see the artist at her home. We were in the middle of a pandemic, and I would have done anything to get out of Joburg. Off we went, driving miles along dirt roads filled with animals and barefoot children before we arrived at her village; almost every building in the village was painted in the style Mahlangu created, many taking the shape of an old-fashioned razor blade.
Behind the painted walls of her home were several traditional rondavels, each with a purpose: her house; her family’s house; a teaching studio; and even one where guests could choose to spend the night. We were surrounded by Ndebele culture. She came to greet us dressed in traditional Ndebele fashion, heavy with elaborate designs and beadwork. I can’t say I felt like I was in the presence of greatness. The feeling was more profound; it was as if before me was someone ancient, yet ephemeral, someone so deeply rooted in the cinnamon brown dirt of her culture that she and it would last forever.
She captured me, her work mesmerized me, and now I am a fan with a very, very expensive Esther Mahlangu original.
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