Mam Esther Turns 85 Today

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Today, Ndebele artist and national icon Dr Esther Mahlangu affectionately named Mam Esther celebrates her 85th birthday. She will launch her largest solo exhibition on 19 November to commemorate the occasion.

Titled Esther Mahlangu 85, the exhibition, curated by Ruzy Rusike, launches online on 11 November and at The Melrose Gallery on the evening of 19 November, running until 20 December 2020.

It will showcase a body of works created over the past three years, including the bold, geometric paintings for which she has become so globally acclaimed, as well as an exciting new series of sculptures.

After the exhibition opening, Mahlangu will unveil two 16m paintings at the Southgate Mall and launch a range of handbags with collaborator Carol Bouwer. In addition, she is working on the touring retrospective of her work set for 2023.

Mahlangu is driven by the need to “pass on our tradition from generation to generation. So they can see where Ndebele comes from.”

“While I have worked with many respected museums, curators, art fairs, galleries and global brands I have had very few solo exhibitions in SA. It is exciting for me to be launching one of my largest solos ever at the age of 85 in South Africa so that my own people can experience and enjoy these paintings and realise their value.

“I love art. It is part of me and I can’t separate it from who I am. Many people ask me when I am going to retire. But making art is not a job to me, it is a major part of who I am and I will continue to paint as long as I am able.”

Mahlangu’s artistic journey began when she underwent a traditional Ndebele coming-of-age ritual where young women are taught traditional beadwork.

Her work is inspired by the traditional finishing of a house which entails covering the walls in decorated coloured clay. In the 1940s, the Ndebele began using paints and colouring the walls in geometric shapes. As a teen, the notoriety for her unique designs secured her commissions for her work.

Mam Esther is also famous for her collaboration with German luxury vehicle manufacturer BMW when in 1999 she was asked to decorate the 525i sedan.

This year she was commissioned by a local Rolls-Royce patron to create a work of art for a Phantom — the car has been named “The Mahlangu”.

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