South Africa: Ndebele Artist Esther Mahlangu Honored with Math Doctorate

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The renowned artist Dr Esther Mahlangu has been awarded another honorary doctorate, an achievement that further solidifies her status as a South African and global icon of mind talent. Awarded by the University of South Africa (Unisa) earlier this week, Dr Mahlangu was recognised as a Doctor of Philosophy for the ‘art of math’ in her work—a special honour for her unique integration of mathematical principles that have shaped her work!

As the university puts it:

“Mahlangu’s vibrant geometric patterns and intricate designs are not just visually stunning; they embody a profound understanding of symmetry, repetition and spatial relationships. The university acknowledged her work as a unique blend of artistic expression and mathematical brilliance. The recognition not only celebrates Mahlangu’s artistic legacy but also challenges traditional perspectives on the intersection of art and mathematics.”

Awarded by Professor Simi Dube, the Executive Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Esther’s work was spotlighted as a ‘cultural blueprint’ for the African art renaissance of the late twentieth century.

“Her intricately stylised designs and her ideogrammatic flatness continue to inspire young generations of artists and designers. For this reason, her artworks are integral to school and university curricula in South Africa and abroad.”—Prof Simi Dube.

Dr Mahlangu’s honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg awarded in 2018, commended her legacy as a cultural entrepreneur who has skilfully negotiated local and global worlds and played a major role as an educator.

Hence, her story—from a young, creative girl who got told off for painting the house to becoming the first female and non-Western person ever to create one of the most famous art piece around (the art car that put Ndebele art on the map)—is one that has cracked conventions, and made many creatives believe that maybe they can too.

Those looking to dive deeper into her journey will be happy to know that a rich retrospective showcasing Esther’s artistic journey is currently on display.

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