New York collector puts money on iconic artist Esther Mahlangu

The doyenne of South African art Esther Mahlangu shut down the Melrose Gallery in Johannesburg for an hour this week to pose with seven paintings she has just sold to a private collector based in New York.

The American bought a total of 37 paintings of Mahlangu’s works for a private collection.

The largest of the pieces displayed on Wednesday for the photoshoot, which formed part of the authentication process, was a 200cm x 600cm stunner comprising three pieces.

The painting apparently fetched $100 000 (R1.8-million).

The gallery was coy about who the buyer was, only admitting that the collector is a keen collector of Mahlangu’s works and already has an impressive collection.

The 88-year-old Mahlangu celebrated her birthday on Saturday with family and friends in her homestead in Mthombothini, a village near Siyabuswa in KwaNdebele, Mpumalanga.

Her work has been exhibited in galleries around the world including in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan.

One of Mahlangu’s works which has been bought by a New York-based collector./Phumla Mkize

Using feathers and acrylic paint, Mahlangu’s distinct Ndebele print works have captivated ordinary people and famous personalities alike.

Some of the celebrities who previously purchased her artwork include media mogul Oprah Winfrey, award-winning producer and musician Swizz Beatz, local Grammy winner Black Coffee, as well as renowned comedian Trevor Noah.

Another one of Mahlangu’s masterpieces. /Phumla Mkize

Another award-winning singer and songwriter John Legend is a known fan of Mahlangu’s work.

The two have also collaborated to produce a campaign for a liquor brand to create awareness on HIV/Aids.

Next year the iconic 1991 BMW 525i, which Mahlangu painted in the Ndebele art form known as ukugwala, will be returning to South Africa after 32 years.

It made Mahlangu the first woman to adorn the German maker’s car as part of the Art Car campaign which was launched in the 1970s.

She was also commissioned to paint the gallery a Rolls Royce Phathom dubbed the Mahlangu Phantom in 2020.

Mahlangu learnt the traditional art form of ukugwala as a 10-year-old.

At the event, the iconic Mahlangu was dressed in her usual traditional garb comprising an elegant royal blue dress with beaded accents, beaded tekkies, a Ndebele blanket and beadwork including a green-bearded necklace, a gift from former president Nelson Mandela which she fondly calls “My Madiba”.

Esther Mahlangu with fellow artist Prof Pikita Ntuli./Phumla Mkize

Also present at the photoshoot to give her moral support was fellow Melrose Gallery artist and academic professor Pikita Ntuli.

The consignment of the paintings is expected to be shipped to the buyer in New York next week.

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