Scores of budding artists continue to make hay while the sun shines and they are doing this by attending the arts academy owned and run by internationally renowned Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu. Her works have made a great impact worldwide.
Automobile company BMW uses some of her colourful Ndebele designs as part of the look and feel on some of their production.
From humble beginnings, to the world stage and changing the history books; that’s the footprint that Dr. Mahlangu has already carved for aspiring artists.
Dr Mahlangu started doing beadwork, pottery and Ndebele homestead wall painting at the age of ten. This was something passed down to her by her mother and grandmother, using a chicken feather to paint.
She was already acknowledged for in the late 1980s when her work was included at an exhibition in Paris. It would many years before her work was taken to even greater heights.
In 2016, she teamed up with legendary African-American singer John Legend and Belvedere Red to help fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.
She is the first African and woman to contribute artistically to BMW cars. Dr. Mahlangu says she was surprised when asked to paint a BMW car.
“I was surprised when I was asked to paint a German car; a BMW. I asked them to bring it here at home, but they insisted that I paint it at a garage in Gauteng. I agreed and the time came for me to paint it. I was not even nervous because I was born with this talent; it’s all I do and I am very good at it.”
Over the past three decades, Dr Mahlangu has exhibited both mural and canvas paintings in Europe, Asia, North and South America. Another accolade was added when she was bestowed an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg in 2018. She says that the accolade made her happy.
“I was happy, it felt great and the Ndebele nation was proud. That’s why I insist to teach the young ones to paint. I am happy to represent my nation so well.”
Seeing that young people are inspired by her work, Dr Mahlangu has appealed to them to believe in themselves and take art seriously.
Her passion led her to the establishment of an arts academy in KwaNdebele.
“When I came back from France, a lot of young people were inspired and many developed interest. So I went door to door asking parents to allow their children to come to my place after school so that I can teach them how to paint. They come every day and I teach them how to draw the patterns on the sand and from there, I give them feathers and paint to start doing the actual work. They are all doing well; some of them even go overseas on their own.”
While all South Africans claim her with pride as one of their own, the Ndebele people are particularly proud that she put their culture on the global map.