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#WEFAfrica2017 | Esther Mahlangu: Go digital, but don't lose your culture

MASTER: Internationally renowned South African artist and queen of Ndebele art, Esther Mahlangu, has designed panels for a special edition, top-of-the-range BMW.

MASTER: Internationally renowned South African artist and queen of Ndebele art, Esther Mahlangu, has designed panels for a special edition, top-of-the-range BMW.

Published May 6, 2017

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DURBAN - Esther Mahlangu is 81, has painted the tail of a Boeing jet, a BMW, and has partnered with US singer and songwriter John Legend to combat HIV/Aids

Everything about the legendary artist is bright and colourful and despite her quiet demeanour and petite stature, a twinkle in her eye hints at her globe-trotting life.

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A guest at the Made in Africa Exhibition on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Durban this week, Mahlangu said she loved travelling and had shown her Ndebele art in the US, Europe and Japan.

The gogo from Mpumalanga was “discovered” by French art researchers in 1986 when they stumbled on her brightly painted Ndebele-style home in Weltevrede.

She was invited to France to paint what was then the prototype of the new BMW525i.

“It was the first time I went overseas and they told me there was no mealie meal, so I took over 50kg of my own. My favourite meal is still pap and marrow,” she said on Thursday.

Her art proved to be a massive hit and her next giant work was to paint the tail of a Boeing plane.

Her love for travelling was ignited, and over the next 20 years, she took the Ndebele patterns around the world. In October, her interior design of a BMW was unveiled in London.

“It does take time, as I have to have interviews and talk to people. Wherever I go, people smile and welcome me."

She recently partnered with Legend, and Belvedere Luxury Vodka to raise funds for HIV/Aids projects, with 50% of the proceeds going to fight Aids in mother-to-child projects.

WEF sessions focused on the digital revolution, but Mahlangu said the challenge on the continent was that the youth were too caught up in technology. “They are too modernised and are forgetting our culture, which they need to take forward to the next generation."

She has a collaboration in the pipeline, but it’s under wraps.

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