Strauss & Co hosted An Evening with Esther Mahlangu along with fellow Ndebele Artisans to provide an in depth background and understanding to the craft of amaNdebele.
You can just imagine my excitement when the invite landed in my inbox!
It was certainly one of the highlights of the year for me as it had been a big dream of mine for a very long time to meet Gogo Esther – as she is affectionately known here at home.
Her recent Destiny magazine cover renewed this desire in me and I remember calling a friend of mine and saying to him we need to drive to Mpumalanga province and go bask in her presence.
Esther Nikwambi Mahlangu was born in 1935 in Mpumalanga, South Africa, and belongs to the South Ndebele people. She began painting at 10 years of age, and was taught the skill of mural painting by her mother and grandmother, following a tradition of her native South Ndebele people for females to paint the exterior of houses. It is in this cultural tradition where Mahlangu began her artistic journey.
Mahlangu follows a local tradition through which this particular type of painting technique is handed down in the family, communicated, learned and transmitted only by women (in the past).
These paintings are closely connected with the ancient tradition of decorating the houses on the occasion of the rite of passage for boys. Between 18 and 20 years of age, the youth of the tribe go to “a school of circumcision”, the ritual that confirm their passage to adulthood.
To celebrate this event the women completely repaint the inside and the outside of their houses with a preparation of cow dung and natural pigments. Brightly coloured acrylic paints are also applied in designs outlined by black lines.
Although seemingly simple, the geometric abstraction that is revealed by these paintings is underscored by the constant repetition and symmetry of such simple shapes that make the whole work quite complex.
In captioning her post promoting the cover to mark Heritage Month, editor of Destiny Magazine Khanyi Dhlomo wrote: “Africa you are Beautiful. Africa you are Powerful. Africa you are the Cradle of Humankind. Africa you are the Now. Africa you are the Future. Believe it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Few embody this view better than Mama Esther Mahlangu, cover star of the Destiny magazine’s September (Heritage Month) Issue
My heart is overflowing. What an informative and beautiful evening.