Esther Mahlangu

See This: South Africa The Art Of A Nation

Just opened at The British Museum is South Africa The Art Of A Nation. A far-reaching exhibition, it features over 200 exhibits spanning 100,000 years, starting with rock art made by the country’s earliest peoples to contemporary art at today’s cutting edge. It’s also a great place to see the colourful work of a Chromologist favourite – the octogenarian artist Esther Mahlangu who found international acclaim via her traditional geometric paintings of buildings in her home town. In this exhibition is a BMW that she has adorned with her distinctive work, a perfect example of the ways in which the show looks both forwards and backwards to encompass the rich, complex history of the area.

Esther Mahlangu

Esther Mahlangu (b. 1935), detail of BMW Art Car 12, 1991. © Esther Mahlangu. Photo Credit: © BMW Group Archives via British Museum

Esther Mahlangu

The exhibition also contains some of the world’s oldest art objects, including a gold rhino, dated 1220 to 1290, from Mapungubwe (near present-day Botswana and Zimbabwe) the capital of the first kingdom in southern Africa. It is one of a number of such figures discovered in the 1930s in royal burial sites, but which were hidden by the then-apartheid government as they contradicted their myth of South Africa having been an empty land, a lie used at the time to legitimise white rule.

British Museum

Gold rhino. From Mapungubwe, capital of the first kingdom in southern Africa, c. AD 1220-1290. Photo Credit: Department of Arts, ©University of Pretoria via British Museum

British Museum

Jeni Couzyn (artistic director), Sandra Sweers (lead artist), The Creation of the Sun, a collaborative piece from Bethesda Arts Centre, textile, 2015. Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum

British Museum

Pair of Sotho Gun Cartridge Dolls, Glass, brass and leather, South Africa, late 19th Century. Photo Credit: © British Museum

The show moves through centuries of South African art to the 20th and 21st centuries, encompassing contemporary art dealing with the legacy of apartheid and moving forward to represent the vibrant, technologically and visually sophisticated work being done by the country’s leading artists today.

Mary Sibande

Mary Sibande’s A Reversed Retrogress: Scene 1 (The Purple Shall Govern) (2013). Photograph: Mary Sibande/Courtesy Gallery MOMO

South Africa The Art Of A Nation is on at The British Museum until 26 February 2016.


Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

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