“With this honorary doctorate, we recognise Esther Mahlangu for her legacy as a cultural entrepreneur, skilfully negotiating local and global worlds, and as an educator. Indeed, as a visionary individual, she traverses what to others are insurmountable political barriers,” says Professor Federico Freschi, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (Fada) at UJ.
Mahlangu began painting as a child, at the age of 10 being taught the art of Ndebele homestead wall painting and beadwork by her mother and grandmother, according to tradition.
Her work came to international attention in 1989 after her inclusion on the important exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Over the past three decades, Mahlangu has exhibited both mural and canvas paintings throughout Europe, Asia, North and South America, also capturing the imagination of more than one generation on social media through charitable campaigns.
Last year she collaborated with singer John Legend in a Belvedere Vodka advertising campaign, along with RED (a Bono-founded charitable organisation) to raise awareness and raise funds for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.
She created large special-edition bottles of Belvedere for auction.
In May this year, she will be participating in an international women’s exhibition, including conceptual artist Yoko Ono (now 85) at the Nirox Foundation Sculpture Park (in partnership with the Swedish Wanas Foundation) located in the Cradle of Humankind, near Johannesburg.
The university said as a national icon and custodian of heritage, Mahlangu has been honoured with awards and medals by government many times and by more than one South African President.
“In the context of current debates in South African institutions of higher learning on questions of decolonisation of the curriculum,” says Prof Freschi, “Esther Mahlangu is a living example of how authentic African knowledge systems can be articulated meaningfully and sustainably. In her, we have an icon worthy of being looked up to by the next generation of creatives, and the university, in particular, Fada is greatly honoured to confer the degree of Philosophiae Doctor honoris causa upon her.”
She is the third recipient of an honorary doctorate conferred by the university during this year’s Autumn graduation season.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng received an honorary doctorate on 27 March in recognition of his pioneering commitment to serving humankind by upholding the independence of the judiciary and by promoting access to justice in tangible ways.
Prof Robert Fry Engle, a world-renowned economist and the 2003 Nobel laureate in economics, was acknowledged for his pioneering discovery of a method for analysing unpredictable movements in financial market prices and interest rates in February.