Renowned South African artist painting now at VMFA

Few people have watched the creation of a work of art that is a part of a museum’s permanent collection. However, as of today, VMFA gives you that unique opportunity as renowned South African artist Esther Mahlangu paints two mural-scale works to serve as a gateway to the museum’s African Art Gallery. These 9- by 15-foot works on canvas will be the only major museum commission created by Mahlangu in North America.

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Mahlangu was the first woman and only non-Westerner to paint one of the BMW Art Cars following in the footsteps of the likes of Warhol and Lichtenstein. She works in the traditional Ndebele style of bold, geometric patterns executed on a very large scale. In the late 19th century, Ndebele women painted the exteriors of their houses in this style as an expression of identity and pride.

Over the years, with the development of commercial paints, the original earth tones created from natural pigments were replaced by a brighter palette. As the artist climbs scaffolding and paints without a straight edge of any sort, these large works of art will evolve before visitors’ eyes over the course of a month. VMFA will document Mahlangu’s work for those who cannot watch in person. The finished work will be presented to patrons and the public in programs on October 8 and 9.

This is an exciting cultural experience for VMFA, and a children’s studio class enjoyed making welcoming banners for Esther and her team of two assistants. Visitors are welcome to observe her at work, although we ask that you allow the artist and her granddaughter to work undisturbed. Please document her progress on Facebook, Twitter @VMFA, and Instagram @VMFAmuseum. Hashtags:  #EstherMahlangu #VMFA