One of Africa’s best-known artists has passionately called on 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 Africans were losing their sense of their roots.
“It amazes me that people are running away from their own culture. Our culture is good, ”he told The Guardian. “The importance of our culture is knowing where they come from. Children, grandchildren must know from what roots they come. If young children don’t learn from older ones, everything will disappear. “
Mahlangu’s pioneering use of the handicrafts of his Ndebele people South East Africa has brought him great success in the world’s art markets, exhibited and sold from Australia to New York, and he continues to travel and exhibit widely. His work has been seen by millions of people on British Airway planes, vodka bottles and billboards.
Collectors include musicians such as Usher, Alicia Keys, and John Legend, as well as Oprah Winfrey.
Born in 1935 on a farm in Middelburg, a small town in the South African province of Mpumalanga, Mahlangu learned to paint at age 10 from her mother and grandmother.
Traditionally, Ndebele women painted colorful geometric patterns on the exterior of their homes, often depicting important events such as weddings.
Mahlangu began painting other objects and canvases, using bright acrylic paints instead of traditional muted monochromatic natural colors.
“He was the first person to reinvent Ndebele designs on different platforms. He has been painting for 70 years and has had a great impact worldwide. Ninety-five percent of his 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 she was seen in South Africa as a traditional Ndebele artist. Only recently has she been recognized here for her real importance as a global contemporary artist … She is almost a global pop icon brand in her own right, ”said Mark.
After years working in provincial cultural museums in South Africa under the repressive and racist apartheid regime, Mahlangu’s breakthrough came when his work was shown in Paris at the Pompidou Center in 1989. Two years later he was commissioned to repaint a BMW car in Germany. The accolades and honors have been piling up ever since. She has represented South Africa abroad as a cultural ambassador and has received varying commissions from within the Market Theater in Johannesburg. to the interior decoration of a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Art from across the African continent has enjoyed great international interest in recent years, with works recently visible in art exhibitions, featured in specialized media and sought after by major institutions.
The boom has fueled a wave of new institutions. In Cape Town, on one of the most recognizable docks in the world, a vast new art museum opened in 2017, the largest in Africa. Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art It has already been described as “Tate Modern of Africa”. There are also new museums in Marrakech and Lakes.
But there is limited public funding for artists or the cultural sector from governments, and the Covid-19 pandemic has further reduced support for artists.
Mahlangu frequently returns home to Mpumalanga, where he founded 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 love doing that. But there should 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 it won’t go away, ”he said.
Mahlangu, who always appears in public in traditional Ndebele clothing and jewelry, said she intended to continue working and traveling despite her age.
“All the cities that I visit I love them all equally. I’m going to keep working and going around the world, ”he said.
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