My mind was blown away when I came across the story of Gogo Esther Mahlangu, Gogo Mahlangu is an 80 year old South African woman who has lived her dream through art. Her art is inspired by who she is, her culture and her tribe which is the Ndebele tribe, they are also found in Zimbabwe, South Africa and part of Botswana. Her story inspired me in so many ways. My dream is to let people see Africa in a different light through my African themed designs and coming across Gogo Mahlangu’s story was incredible.
Esther Mahlangu was born in 1935 on a farm outside Middleburg, in what is now the Mpumalanga province. She is the first of nine children: six boys and three girls. Following traditions passed down from her mother and grandmother, she learned traditional Ndebele wall painting and beadwork as a child. She became an expert in executing murals as a teenager, using a widening range of paint colors that emerged in the 1940s. She married and had three sons, but lost her husband and two of her children. Between 1980 and 1991 she lived and worked at the Botshabelo Historical Village, an open-air museum of Ndebele culture.
In 1986, researchers from Paris who were travelling the world to document traditional arts saw the paintings on Mahlangu’s house and they loved it and they invited her. She travelled to France in 1989, staying there for two months and painting a house in front of thousands of spectators. She also decorated a wall inside the AngoulÁªme Museum of Fine Arts and showed her work at other locations in France. In 1990 she began to paint murals for public venues in Johannesburg and elsewhere in South Africa, soon followed by locations in Europe and the United States. Her work appeared in exhibitions in more than a dozen countries.
She painted her geometric patterns on a BMW 525i in 1991, becoming the twelfth artist and first woman to take part in the BMW Art Car Project after figures such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
She is an inspiration to her community and African art industry, With the goal of preserving her cultural heritage, Mahlangu started an art school in the backyard of her home in Mabhoko (Weltevreden) in the KwaMhlanga district in Mpumalanga Province. She funded the school herself, and when not travelling for exhibitions she mentors young artists in the traditional style of Ndebele design. Pupils learn how to mix pigments and paint straight lines, freehanded and without sketches, using their fingers or chicken feathers.
She has taken pride and has embraced her roots. She still paints even at the age of 85 years. “All these awards and recognition for my work mean a lot to me as an individual and a Ndebele woman. I am really happy and it encourages me to continue inspiring others to love their culture,” she said. This is who I am and I am proud of it. I wish young people could go back to their roots and embrace who they are so that the world can recognize them for who they are,” she said.
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