Dr Esther Mahlangu, a revered figure in the realm of South African art, stands as an iconic artist whose creative contributions have spanned an impressive seven decades. Her latest exhibition, titled ‘Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting,’ invites visitors on a captivating journey through the living icon’s remarkable history.
For seventy years, Dr. Mahlangu has not only contributed to the art world but has also served as an inspiration and influence, leaving an indelible mark on contemporary art. Originating from humble beginnings, this Ndebele artist has played a pivotal role in shaping South Africa’s cultural appreciation and showcasing exceptional talent. Notably, she achieved a groundbreaking feat by becoming the first female and non-Western person to take the wheel of BMW’s iconic design with her renowned ‘art car.’ Furthermore, she holds an Honorary Doctorate for her exceptional cultural entrepreneurship.
Renowned for her vibrant use of colour, intricate Ndebele patterns, and remarkable ability to transform any surface into a canvas, Dr Mahlangu has garnered global respect for her boundless creativity. The upcoming Retrospective Exhibition, scheduled for February 18, promises to transport Cape Town through time with a collection of 100 artworks loaned from international collections. The exhibition will also feature a series of historic photographs and a short film, providing a comprehensive exploration of Dr. Mahlangu’s artistic legacy.
The artist often reminisces about her artistic journey, recounting how her grandmother’s training in the 1940s set the foundation for her passion. She shares the story of initially drawing on the house, gradually progressing to the front and realizing her innate talent for painting.
Curated by Nontobeko Ntombela and executed by The Melrose Gallery, the exhibition serves as a tribute to Dr. Mahlangu’s illustrious life as an artist. While showcasing iconic pieces from her career, the exhibition also underscores the commitment, passion, storytelling, and cultural appreciation embedded in each work.
Nontobeko emphasizes that Mahlangu’s journey epitomizes passion, innovation, and resilience. The retrospective pays homage to her unique approach, blending African cultures with modernity and contemporary elements. It celebrates Mahlangu’s voice, agency, and pioneering spirit, encapsulating her self-enunciation, self-determination, and creativity.
‘Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting’ will be hosted at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town until August 11, urging South African art enthusiasts and devoted Esther Mahlangu fans to immerse themselves in her seven decades of artistic brilliance. Following this, the exhibition will embark on a global tour, starting at Wits before heading to the United States in 2026.
In a parallel development, the iconic art car that catapulted Dr Mahlangu into the spotlight is experiencing a full-circle moment, making its return to South Africa for the first time since the 90s. The car will be displayed at the Iziko Museums in Cape Town, marking another significant milestone in Dr. Mahlangu’s storied career.