"Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting": Esther Mahlangu’s Retrospective Exhibition Takes Center Stage+

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Cape Town, South Africa – Iziko Museums of South Africa is set to unveil a monumental retrospective exhibition, “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu, A Retrospective, curated by Nontobeko Ntombela. Opening on February 17, 2024, at the Iziko South African National Gallery, the exhibition spans over 50 years of Dr. Esther Mahlangu’s illustrious career, showcasing her remarkable journey and contributions to contemporary art. The retrospective will be open to the public from February 18 to August 11, 2024, before embarking on a global tour.


Dr. Esther Mahlangu, a celebrated South African contemporary artist, rose to global acclaim through her innovative work that transcends traditional murals. The retrospective exhibition, a landmark achievement for South African art, recognizes Mahlangu as one of the few artists granted the opportunity to present a retrospective in world-renowned museums.


Dr. Esther Mahlangu



The exhibition, curated by Nontobeko Ntombela, features more than 100 artworks loaned from international collections, historic photographs, a short film, and Mahlangu’s iconic BMW 525i Art Car, making its historic return to South Africa after more than 30 years. Mahlangu became the first woman and first African to participate in the prestigious BMW Art Car Collection in 1991.


Mahlangu’s art, characterized by a unique language of color and form, reflects her self-assertive stance and intersection of African cultures with modernity. Her journey, marked by passion, innovation, and resilience, is celebrated in this retrospective. The exhibition offers an intimate insight into Mahlangu’s vast and vibrant career, showcasing her fluency across diverse mediums and her transformative impact on space and form.



 Ndebele Abstract, 2023, acrylic on canvas



The retrospective exhibition tells the story of Mahlangu’s artistic journey, beginning at the age of 10 when she discovered her extraordinary talent. Trained by her grandmother and mother in traditional techniques, Mahlangu’s artistry evolved from mural paintings to sculptures, ceramics, and even automobiles.


Dr. Bongani Ndhlovu, Acting CEO of Iziko Museums of South Africa, expresses honor in celebrating the living legend, Dr. Esther Mahlangu. The retrospective is a fusion of creativity, culture, and aesthetics, reaffirming Africa-centered innovations.


The exhibition, made possible with support from the National Arts Council and BMW, emphasizes Mahlangu’s pioneering spirit and remarkable contribution to the world of art. Peter van Binsbergen, CEO of BMW Group South Africa, highlights the significance of the exhibition and the return of the BMW Art Car to South African soil.


“Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu, A Retrospective is a journey through Mahlangu’s rich artistic legacy, transcending boundaries and inspiring generations. The celebration of Dr. Esther Mahlangu’s life and art will be open to the public from February 18 to August 11, 2024, at the Iziko South African National Gallery. The Melrose Gallery, as Esther Mahlangu’s global representative, played a pivotal role in implementing the Retrospective Exhibition.


For those eager to witness this historic exhibition, a global tour will follow, starting at Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moving to the United States in early 2026. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the vibrant and transformative world of Esther Mahlangu’s art.


You can see more of Dr. Esther Mahlangu’s works at the Melrose Gallery.

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