“….African art like Picasso’s art, is not about describing things but about conveying the idea of things and people…”
-Marilyn Martin

Esther Mahlangu was born on the 11th of November, 1935 in Middleburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa. She is a painter whose works are recognized internationally and has won several awards. At the age of 83 and settled in her house in South Africa, Esther is still invested in the art that she has always done and loved. She is one of AWLO’s extraordinary voices and we explore her incredible works.


At the age of 9, in accordance with the Ndebele tradition, Esther was taught how to paint by her mother and grandmother. In an interview with SheLeadsAfrica, she speaks on how she was inspired by her mother and grandmother saying; “I was inspired by both women. From as far as I can remember, I followed traditions passed down from my mother and grandmother. I learned traditional Ndebele wall painting and bead-work, as a child that was all I did every day.”

[Tweet “Esther Mahlangu has used traditional painting to become a voice that represents the beauty that is predominant in Africa”]

Esther Mahlangu’s consistency and interest in the traditional paintings of her people has led her to be recognized in the Western World and she has used the traditional painting to become a voice that represents the beauty that is predominant in Africa. In an interview she talks about how African art has influenced the western culture; “There has always been a fascination, demand, and admiration for art from Africa”

Esther’s paintings are a reference to the Ndebele traditions with a modern twist to them. She also in an interview highlights the uniqueness of the Ndebele style; “…the Ndebele style is one of the most significant styles of painting that still resembles original shapes and forms. It is colorful and abstract and lends itself to incorporation into modern design.”

The beauty of her paintings gave her the opportunity to design a BMW car making her the first woman to receive the honor.

[Tweet “Esther Mahlangu’s paintings has given her the opportunity to design a BMW car; making her the first woman to receive the honor.”]


Esther not only paints, but she also has an art school where she teaches on the significance and importance of the Ndebele painting. She does this in order to sustain the cultural heritage of the Ndebele people.

She says in an interview; “I have always had the calling to teach the science and significance of the Ndebele painting, and why we paint. Over the decades it has become my goal to preserve my cultural heritage. I built an art school in the backyard of my home in Mathombothiini (Weltevreden) in the Kwamhlanga district in Mpumalanga Province.”

Her hope is that African art can be taught in formal schools and institutions in South Africa and she is working towards that dream; “…What is mostly important to me is to have formal educational schools and facilities teach African art. That is a dream I am building towards.”

Esther also hopes to transfer her skills to the next generation. She remains one of Africa’s representatives of how some cultures in Africa portray beauty and art which is often times underestimated and shows the world that there is more to Africa than the stereotypes that Africa is known for.

“The legacy I want to leave in this world is the art and crafts that has made me the recognized icon I am today…”

She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Esther Mahlangu.