VMFA gives visitors the unique opportunity to watch the creation of a work of art for the permanent collection. In September, renowned South African artist Esther Mahlangu will paint two mural-scale works, which will 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.

Mahlangu, works in the traditional Ndebele style of bold, geometric patterns executed on a very large scale. In the late-nineteenth century, the 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 have changed to a brighter palette. Mahlangu is 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.

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.