Born in 1935, Esther was taught to paint by her mother and grandmother. As a child, the artist honed her skills by helping her female relatives paint decorative traditional Ndebele patterns on the walls of their homes. Confined to practicing on the back walls until she improved her technique, Esther soon developed her own distinct style. Using fine chicken feathers as her tool of choice, the artist continues to reinvent Ndebele tradition by creating vibrantly coloured, large-scale geometric paintings that echo the traditional patterns used in Ndebele beadwork. Although still very much rooted in Ndebele culture, Mahlangu’s works fit in beautifully within a greater contemporary setting.
As the artist adorns this unconventional surface with her bold patterns, Male Torso perfectly exemplifies Mahlangu’s work as the meeting point of old and new, of traditional and contemporary. At 82 years old, Mahlangu has extensively widened the types of surfaces and objects on which she works, often partnering with some of the world’s most renowned commercial companies. The most notable of these relationships being Mahlangu’s 1991 partnership with BMW’s Art Car Series, an initiative whose past participants include artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. The result of this relationship was featured as a highlight of the recent British Museum exhibition, South Africa: The Art of a Nation.
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