‘I will continue to paint until I am no more’: Esther Mahlangu celebrates 85 with a solo exhibition

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An untitled abstract work by Dr Esther Mahlangu produced in 2019
An untitled abstract work by Dr Esther Mahlangu produced in 2019
  • Since 1989 visual artist and teacher Dr Esther Mahlangu has been exhibiting her work to the public.
  • To celebrate her 85th birthday and 31 years in the visual art world, the artist is hosting her largest solo exhibition and The Melrose Gallery.
  • Titled Esther Mahlangu 85 the show is being presented online and at The Melrose Gallery until 20 December 2020. 


I’m content with how far I have come but I will continue to paint until I am no more. I just have one more dream to fulfil. My dream is to receive more accolades from various government departments. This will help with funding for my school. But I also wish my art stays alive when I am no more.

On 11 November 2020 visual artist Dr Esther Mahlangu turned 85. 

Dr Esther Mahlangu continues to paint with a feath
Dr Esther Mahlangu continues to paint with a feather brush as per the Ndebele visual traditions. (Image by Clint Strydom)

The artist's introduction into art institutions began in the 1980s when she was a resident at the Botshabelo open-air museum after French curators from the Centre Pompidou encountered her work. In 1989, during the State of Emergency in South Africa Mahlangu travelled to Paris to take part in the art show Magiciens de la terre. While there a 50-year old Mahlangu offered a performance-based installation by painting a replica of her house while the public watched. 

However, by the time she began exhibiting, Mahlangu had been a practicing artist for just over 40 years, first in her parental home and then in her marital household. Whenever there was an addition to the family, a loss or an event worth acknowledging, Mahlangu painted because before it was a living, her practice served the role of a visual language.

An untitled abstract work by Dr Esther Mahlangu pr
An untitled abstract work by Dr Esther Mahlangu produced in 2020

Since then the artist has continued to work, adding commercial commissions from brands like BMW, Fiat, Rolls Royce and Belvedere Vodka. to her body of work. 

To celebrate her seven-decade long contributions to contemporary African art, The Melrose Gallery is hosting her largest solo exhibition. Titled Esther Mahlangu 85, the show is curated by Bag Factory alumnus Ruzy Rusike. Made over a three-year period, the body of work on show comprises paintings, installations and a series of sculptures.  

Esther Mahlangu 85 is being presented online and at The Melrose Gallery until 20 December 2020. For more information visit www.themelrosegallery.com  



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