Art in the Diaspora

The Brooklyn Museum Adds Esther Mahlangu’s Artwork to Their Collection

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

The Brooklyn Museum recently took a significant stride toward inclusivity by adding 300 works from Black and Asian artists to its collection. Among these noteworthy acquisitions is Esther Mahlangu‘s “Untitled” (2017). The South African self-taught artist has experienced a prolific year, marked by the return of her BMW Art Car to South Africa and the international acclaim of her artworks at various art fairs. This addition to the Brooklyn Museum underscores its commitment to diversity and represents one of the institution’s many steps in that direction.

Esther Mahlangu, Untitled (2017). Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

Esther Mahlangu’s presence in the art world is far from new, as her captivating works demand our attention. Infused with bold geometric patterns, Mahlangu ensures the enduring legacy of Ndebele culture. Her technique is rooted in the age-old tradition of Ndebele people adorning boys’ houses during their rites of passage. Esther adds her unique twist with bold and intricate geometric patterns, shapes, and motifs, thereby preserving the soul of Ndebele culture for generations.

Born in 1935, Esther Nikwambi Mahlangu emerged as a renowned Ndebele artist, inheriting traditional painting skills passed down through generations. In 1986, Parisian researchers, captivated by her work, extended an invitation to France after photographing her distinctive house. Despite initial language and cultural challenges, Esther’s talent flourished on the international stage.

In 1991, she became the first woman and Black artist to contribute to the BMW Art Cars Collection. Her BMW 525i masterpiece, adorned with Ndebele art, marked a groundbreaking cultural fusion. Esther’s unique contribution emphasized the intersection of industrial design and individual expression.

BMW 525i designed by Esther Mahlangu (Photo Credit: BMWartcarcollection)

Esther Mahlangu’s artistic journey has transcended geographical boundaries, propelling her onto the global stage with exhibitions worldwide. Notable milestones in her career include a 1996 mural in South Africa, painting columns in Tokyo in 1991, and the 2001 Galleria Cavelini in Italy. Esther remains firmly rooted in her commitment to preserving Ndebele culture despite the international acclaim. Her efforts extend beyond artistic achievements, as she actively educates local and international audiences about her rich heritage.

The Brooklyn Museum’s acquisition of 300 works from Black and Asian artists signifies a meaningful stride toward diversity and inclusivity. Esther Mahlangu’s inclusion in this collection stands out as a testament to the transformative power of art in cultivating intercultural dialogue. Her is a symbolic representation of the harmonious blend between tradition and modernity. Through Esther’s unique expressions, the acquired artworks contribute significantly to a broader narrative of diverse artistic voices.


Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art News Africa.

Write A Comment