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A Retrospective Unveiling: A Life of Artistic Brilliance

An international tour to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Esther Mahlangu kicked off in Cape Town last month. The Iziko South African National Gallery unveiled “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu, A Retrospective, which opened its doors to the public on Sunday, 18 February 2024.

Transformative Artistry

Curated by Nontobeko Ntombela, the exhibition provides a profound exploration of Dr. Mahlangu’s transformative artistry. The exhibition will be presented in Cape Town until 11 August 2024, after which it will move to Gauteng and then to the US and other continents for an extended period thereafter. The retrospective opened its doors in the week that art lovers from around the nation descended on Cape Town for the annual Investec Cape Town Art Fair, hosted at the CTICC between 16 and 18 February 2024.

Dr. Mahlangu’s Artistic Journey

“From her humble beginnings as a teenager in the 1940s, showcasing her talent amongst the IsiNdebele language-speaking community, to her meteoric rise to global acclaim in the late 1980s and 1990s, her journey is a testament to passion, innovation, and resilience. The retrospective pays homage to Dr. Mahlangu’s unique approach to art, which intersects African culture with modernity and the contemporary, symbolising pride, self-determination, and innovation. It is not just an exhibition; it’s a celebration of Dr. Mahlangu’s voice, agency, and pioneering spirit. This is a landmark achievement for South African art. It recognises Dr. Mahlangu as one of the few South African artists who have had the opportunity to present a Retrospective Exhibition in world-renowned museums.”

Nontobeko Ntombela

The retrospective features more than 100 contemporary artworks, historic photographs, and a short film that have been carefully curated and gathered from around the globe.

A drawcard for the retrospective is the iconic BMW Artcar which has returned to South African shores for the first time since she crafted it in 1991. The crew used a crane to lift the Art Car over the roof of the National Gallery and into the atrium. Then, they pushed it into its designated space where it will stay for the next 6 months. The whole process was quite dramatic!

“Iziko Museums is honoured to celebrate the living legend, Dr Esther Mahlangu, and to host this colossal showcase where creativity, culture, and aesthetics are fused. Dr. Mahlangu is a living symbol of triumph against adversity. Her approach to art has inspired generations and is a re-affirmation of calls for Africa-centred innovations.”

Dr Bongani Ndhlovu, Acting CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa

Highlighting Innovation

The exhibition will feature a comprehensive 300-page catalogue, published by Skira Paris, which will capture her immense contribution to contemporary art. In fact, the catalogue will illuminate her innovative approach that intersects African culture with modernity and the contemporary. Consequently, this approach, in turn, symbolizes South African pride, self-determination, and innovation. Scheduled for release in July 2024, the catalogue is set to be an exciting milestone for the art world.

The monumental retrospective will be open to the public at the Iziko South African National Gallery until August 11th, 2024. Then, it will begin its global tour, stopping first at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg before moving to the United States in early 2026. The Melrose Gallery, Esther Mahlangu’s global representative, took charge of implementing the Retrospective Exhibition.

Both BMW and the National Arts Council sponsored the event, inviting the public to come and celebrate Dr. Mahlangu’s work as it makes its way across the nation. Their generous support has made it possible for everyone to witness the beauty of her art.

“We hope everyone will immerse themselves in the world of Dr. Esther Mahlangu and witness the legacy of one of the most pivotal artists of our time.”

Nontobeko Ntombela

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