Meet Dr. Esther Mahlangu

Renowned Ndebele artist and international icon Esther Mahlangu has been hailed for breaking barriers through art.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) conferred an honorary doctorate on Mahlangu recognising her “legacy as a cultural entrepreneur who has skillfully negotiated local and global worlds and played a major role as an educator”. The 82-year-old veteran artist is known for being a cultural ambassador through her bold artwork that references her Ndebele heritage. Her work has been recognised globally.

Here are some of the moments when Dr Esther Mahlangu took African art to the world

Mahlangu’s work came to international attention in 1989 after her inclusion on the important exhibition Magiciens de la terre, held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

In 1991, she became the first non-Western person and female to design BMW’s art cars. Mahlangu painted the BMW 525i, the first “African Art Car” with typical motifs of the Ndebele tribe. In 2016 she joined forces with BMW once more to design the BMW 7 series.

In 2016, she teamed up with international singer John Legend and Belvedere Red to help fight HIV/Aids in Africa. Her Ndebele artwork was displayed on the Belvedere bottles marked with the (Red) logo. 50 percent of the proceeds from the sale of those bottles go towards fighting Aids.

In 2017, Mahlangu was honoured with a mural commemorating her bright, creative and bold artistic works in New York City. The mural is located on Franklin Street and the West Broadway Citi Bike station in Tribeca and the tribute was created by Imani Shanklin Roberts. The painting spans a two-lane road and consists of Ndebele symbols.

Locally, Mahlangu has received many accolades. In 2016, it was bestowed on her the Order of Ikhamanga, silver class. The national orders are the highest awards in the country handed to citizens who has done remarkable work, in flying the flag high.