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Heritage Month: Esther Mahlangu gives feather-light masterclass at National School of the Arts

On Wednesday the National School of the Arts hosted a session with renowned painter Esther Mahlangu in celebration of Heritage Month. A class of 31 pupils from Grades 11 and 12 painted Ndebele designs under the tutelage of Mahlangu.

It’s not often that budding artists are tutored by one of the greats, but that is what happened on Wednesday when Ndebele artist Dr Esther Mahlangu spent two hours with Grade 11 and 12 pupils at the National School of the Arts.

Using a feather, Mahlangu showed the pupils techniques for creating Ndebele designs on canvas.

Brenda Sakellarides, acting artistic director, marketing and development at the school, said it was an honour to host Mahlangu.

Our students will be inspired not only by her art, but her incredible spirit.”

According to Sakellarides, the event, in partnership with Tiger Brands and Albany Bakeries, was an opportunity to “bridge generations” by bringing people together through the tradition of storytelling.

From the moment she arrived, Mahlangu was greeted by an attentive room. At 82, she is considered one of South Africa’s treasures, who has ignited a renewed appreciation for Ndebele artwork through her symmetrical and colorful murals.

A National School of the Arts student welcomed Mahlangu to the event with a praise poem in isiNdebele about her accomplishments.

In North Sotho there is a saying which goes: Rutang bana ditaola, le sa ye le tsona badimong. Loosely translated it means elders must share wisdom and expertise with the youth, not the grave,” said Albany Bakeries MD Matshela Seshibe.

Tiger Brands has partnered with Mahlangu to display her artwork on the packaging of their products.

Ever since we launched these packs in stores nationwide we have received a positive coverage through various media,” said Seshibe.

Seven of Mahlangu’s designs were presented to Tiger Brands. The creative teams at Albany Bakeries and Tastic selected their preferred designs.

I am glad you will be learning my artwork. I’m sure you’ll easily grasp it because you are more educated than me,” said Mahlangu.

She took out an old and wrinkled plastic shopping bag with several feathers. Removing the vanes of a feather from the bottom so as to fashion a quill, Mahlangu created a simple paintbrush by leaving a small section of vanes at the top.

Using a small bowl with black ink, she dipped the feather in the ink and quietly began to paint a square on the border of the canvas.

Then, after drawing a few lines, she stopped and addressed the pupils.

Use the top of the feather with vanes to do what I just did,” said Mahlangu.

The pupils seemed taken aback at using a feather. They chatted among themselves about how to get the technique right.

It was hard to do,” said Nkateko Boloi, an NSA pupil, after labouring for close to an hour trying to get the lines right. And although she wants to be an astrophysicist and go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she chose the National School of the Arts because of her desire to develop her artistic talents.

But after a while it’s easy when she shows you; it requires careful attention,” said Boloi.

The pupils’ artwork will be exhibited in the foyer of Tiger Brands’ head office in Bryanston. DM

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