Mahlangu is part of the Ndebele community in the Gauteng region,
located north of Pretoria. The Ndebele, unlike many other tribes
in South Africa, have managed to preserve their centuries
old ancestral traditions.
Despite being a patriarchal society, artistic heritage is handed
down from mother to daughter; as a young woman reaches puberty
she withdraws from male society for three months and is taught
the ceremonial patterns of Ndebele beadwork in the nineteenth
century this tradition was extended to decorative wall paintings,
also executed exclusively by the Ndebele women.
Mahlangu is an important proponent of this tradition. She draws
freehand, without first measuring or sketching, using luminous
and high-contrast vinyl paints that lend extraordinary vigor
to her murals. While at a glance purely abstract, her compositions
are built upon a highly inventive system of signs and symbols.
is the first Ndebele artist to transpose wall paintings onto
canvases and to take the conventions of her artwork into the
larger arena. In 1989 Esther Mahlangu came to Paris to create
murals for the "Magiciens de la Terre" exhibition,
and by agreeing to undertake further commissioned works for
public buildings like the Civic Theater of Johannesburg, for
museums, for BMW, for Comme des Garçons,
has made Ndebele art celebrated world over. She has stated:
My mother and grandmother taught me to paint when I was
ten years old. I have been busy with it ever since and have
always liked it. When I am painting my heart is very wide, it
reaches out. It makes me feel very, very happy.