One of Africa’s best-known artists has made a passionate appeal to governments and communities across the continent to preserve their traditions and culture in the face of globalization.
Esther Mahlangu, 85, said she was concerned that young people in Africa were losing track of their roots.
“I’m surprised people are running away from their own culture. “Our culture is good,” he told the Guardian. “The importance of our culture is to know where they come from. Children, grandchildren need to know what roots they come from. If young children do not learn from the elderly, then everything will disappear. “
The pioneering use of Mahlangu’s handicrafts in the Ndebele arts of Southeast Africa has brought her immense success in the global art markets, presented and sold from Australia to New York, and she continues to travel and exhibit widely. Her work has been featured by millions of people on British Airways planes, vodka bottles and license plates.
Musicians including Usher, Alicia Keys and John Legend, as well as Oprah Winfrey are among the collectors.
Born in 1935 on a farm in Middelburg, a small town in the South African province of Mpumalanga, Mahlangu learned to paint at the age of 10, taught by her mother and grandmother.
Traditionally, Ndebele women painted colorful geometric patterns on the exterior of their homes, often representing important events such as weddings.
Mahlang began painting other objects and canvases, using bright acrylic paints instead of muted, monochrome traditional natural colors.
“He was the first person to redefine Ndebele designs on different platforms. He has been painting for 70 years now and has a significant impact worldwide. Ninety-five percent of her work is with international collectors, “said Craig Mark, director of the Melrose Gallery in Johannesburg, where Mahlangu has a rare solo show this month.
“For a long time he was considered in South Africa as a traditional Ndebele artist. “It just came to be recognized here for its true significance as a global contemporary artist. It’s almost a global pop icon brand in itself,” Mark said.
After years working in provincial cultural museums in South Africa under the oppressive and racist regime of apartheid, Mahlangu was discovered when her work appeared in Paris at the Pompidou Center in 1989. Two years later she was assigned to repaint a BMW in Germany. . Since then, distinctions and honors have accumulated. He has represented South Africa abroad as cultural ambassador and has received supplies ranging from the interior of the Market Theater in Johannesburg to the interior design for a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Art from across the African continent has enjoyed a wave of international interest in recent years, with works that have recently been seen in art shows, appearing in the specialized media and sought after by major institutions.
The explosion fueled a wave of new institution. In Cape Town, on one of the most recognizable waterfronts in the world, a huge new art museum, the largest in Africa, opened in 2017. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art has already been described as the “Tate Modern of Africa”. There are also new museums in Marrakesh and Lagos.
But there is limited public funding for artists or the cultural sector by governments, and the Covid-19 pandemic has further reduced support for artists.
Mahlangu often returns to her home in Mpumalanga where she has set up a school where girls and young women from the local community are taught to paint in the traditional way.
“I have taught them and I like to do that. But there needs to be more support for artists from governments. They need to promote African art and culture around the world. That would be a very good thing. That way he will not disappear, “he said.
Mahlangou, who always appears in public in traditional Ndebele clothes and jewelry, said she intended to continue working and traveling despite her age.
“I love all the cities I visit equally. “I will continue to work and go around the world,” he said.