Dr Esther Mahlangu admiring her work in the BMW 7 Series. Image Credit: Elle Decoration SA

Dr Esther Mahlangu: The Ndebele Culture’s Greatest Marketer

Magiciens de la Terre

A humble soul born in the year 1935 in Mpumalanga commands global respect and love for her expression. It’s not anything new or foreign, but her culture which has been passed from generation to generation. Her work fills the hallways of the ‘premier’ western art houses and well-renowned private African collections. Gogo Esther Mahlangu is truly one of the real guardians of the African culture at large.

Yesterday, Gogo Esther was conferred an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Joburg as they celebrated her role in the cultural preservation and the placing of Ndebele culture in global art spaces.  This conference was attended by top South African arts and culture practitioners and the Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa.


Her work first got global attention when she was featured in the 1989 Magiciens de la Terre (Magicians of the World) in Paris when she was still a resident at the Botshabelo open-air museum. Using the skills she gained from her mother and grandmother from the age of ten, Dr Esther managed to secure a deal with BMW to build an art car. Her work decorated 1992 BMW 525i and changed the course of history as she was the first woman to do so. She had another opportunity to have her designs in the 2016 BMW 7 Series Individual an opportunity she marvelled at.

“My art has taken me all over the world, and I have seen many places. I have painted many walls and objects and my work is in many museums, but I am still Esther Mahlangu from Mpumalanga in South Africa. My heart was filled with joy when BMW asked me to paint for them again.”

More deals have come her way including working with world-renowned vocalist and pianist, John Legend on a limited range of bottles for Belvedere Vodka. She also received a mural spanning across two lanes on Franklin Street and West Broadway in Tribeca, New York City. The painting features Ndebele inspire patterns and was painted by New York artist Imani Shanklin Roberts.

Gogo Esther officially opening her dedicated street painting in New York.

All Africans as a collective should be thankful to Dr Esther Mahlangu because she has done a lot to make sure that our culture stays relevant worldwide. Her work has been exhibited over 50 times globally, whether in solo exhibitions or selected exhibitions. Her global footprint has been etched onto the mantle and no one will ever erase.

Let’s hear it for the queen of style, Dr Esther Mahlangu!


Free Thinker. Loud. Another inhabitant of Terra Firma. I am not your favourite person. Neither do I plan to be. But you will know my opinion. In fact, you will love it.

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