South African Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu celebrated her 80th birthday in grand style with her own exhibition at the Irma Stern Museum (Cape Town, November 11 — December 2, 2015). Esther Mahlangu 80 included recent paintings and three-dimensional works, including ceramics.
The museum states of the artist:
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.
The show was reviewed by Nancy Dantas of Hyperallergic and her pictures accompany this post. Dantas said the works “chatter and vie for one’s attention, each one carrying with it a voice or accent. Together the works form a harmonious and indelible feminine chorus…” She had criticism for the museum’s blandly commercial treatment of the artist, but still walked away with a sense of community after seeing the works. Mahlangu’s mural artwork reminded her of her neighbors meeting together outside while they whitewashed their homes.
Following but also innovating this plural visual idiom, Mahlangu’s works speak of community. Her output evokes thoughts of neighbors coming together to admire or scorn one’s tastes in embellishing the home. It’s also impossible not to notice how the artist integrates one of the ubiquitous forms in 20th-century art, the grid, into her practice. One might argue that Mahlangu ingenuously mixes art history and local tradition to new effect in the way she bridges the art gallery with the home. This is the unfolding, I would argue, that we are given to see.
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