On 11 November 2015, internationally renowned artist, Esther Mahlangu, will celebrate her 80th birthday with a solo exhibition, Esther Mahlangu 80, at the UCT Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town, South Africa.
The exhibition will comprise of recent paintings and three-dimensional works. Mahlangu’s first solo exhibition at the Museum was in 2003 and her return to the former residence of one of South Africa’s most famous female artists, Irma Stern, is especially apt given the inspiration Stern drew from South Africa and its people.
Although fundamentally informed by Ndebele artistic practices, many art historians, critics and writers have overlooked the similarities between Mahlangu and her contemporaries by framing her work strictly from an anthropological and cultural perspective. Although her aesthetic vocabulary remains deeply rooted in memory and tradition, innovation has played an essential part in Mahlangu’s unconventional art-making.
Mahlangu’s contemporary status began with the Magiciens de la terre exhibition in the Pompidou in 1989, at a time when political turmoil at home and sanctions abroad made international participation almost impossible for all but a few South African artists.
Since then she has gone on to collaborate and exhibit with many of the best-known artists around the world. In 1991, she was invited to be the 12th artist to paint a BMW as part of the Art Car Collection, becoming the first woman and the first African to do so, and joining an illustrious list of artists, including Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and David Hockney. In 2000 at the 5th Biennale in Lyon, France, she collaborated with American artist Sol LeWitt on a work which was exhibited at the main entrance, and more recently, she was commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art to do two major works for the Museum’s permanent collection in 2014.Exposure to new cultures, countries, materials, and techniques has brought about new reasoning behind Mahlangu’s work, although she has personally remained unchanged.