Born in 1935 on a farm outside Middleburg, in present day Mpumulanga, Esther Mahlangu joined the superstar ranks of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney and Frank Stella in 1991, when she was chosen to paint the BMW art car. The first woman and non-western artist to be selected, this moment echoed the broader shifts taking place at the end of the 20th century where contemporary artists from Africa began taking centre stage in the international art world. Significantly, two years prior to this career defining commission, Mahlangu participated in the 1989 ground breaking exhibition Magiciens de la terre (Magicians of the World) at the Pompidou Center in Paris, where she first introduced global audiences to the unique geometric art of the Ndebele people.
The present lot was produced a year after Mahlangu adorned the first “African Art Car”, a BMW 525i, with her trademark motif used by the Ndebele to decorate the walls of their homes.1 Transferring this form of hard-edge abstraction to canvas, sees Mahlangu drawing on a historical convention that has its origins in the mid-nineteenth century, and altering its mediation to create a new form of expression that is at once an assertion of her traditional Ndebele identity whilst also representing her own contemporary exploration of the pictorial possibilities inherent in abstraction.
1. Sue Williamson (2009) South African Art Now. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. Page 152.
Acquired from the artist by the current owner's father.