In a thoroughly unique fusion of culture and art, an exciting new project unites two distinct arts and crafts from distant parts of the globe, revealing the universality and magical essence of generational transmission of knowhow and tradition.

Esther Mahlangu

Two vibrant UNESCO status Intangible Cultural Heritage practices and expressions, the Ndebele art of wall painting and Indian weaving technique known as Dhurrie, join forces in a colourful series of tapestries based on the work of acclaimed Ndebele art proponent Dr. Esther Mahlangu.
The meeting of these two disparate artforms has been lovingly facilitated by Alexandra de Cadaval, as an enterprise of her art projects. Part love affair, part business venture, the energy behind the project stems not only from Alexandra’s passion for the art of ornamentation and her multi-layered experience of world culture, but also from a special bond she has formed with the South African artist.

Esther Mahlangu is a prominent member of the Ndebele community. One of the leading figures of Ndebele painting, her work reflects the deep-rooted ancestral traditions of the Ndebele people, where the artistic heritage of ceremonial beadwork and subsequently decorative wall painting is transmitted from mother to daughter. Representing rites of passage, these brightly-coloured geometric abstract yet patterned works decorate the walls of traditional Ndebele houses. Mahlangu is the first Ndebele artist to move from walls to canvas, and indeed to bring this artform into the wider world. Her work was first brought from Africa to Europe (Paris) for an exhibition entitled Magiciens de la Terre, in itself a project to discover ancestral art and artists from ‘indigenous cultures’ around the globe and introduce them to a wider public.

Alexandra and Esther
Alex & Esther / Photo by Maryse Magnin

Alexandra de Cadaval first met Esther Mahlangu in 2017, when she visited her village in South Africa. Having developed a great interest in the art of ornamentation in sub-Saharan Africa, Alexandra was drawn inevitably towards Ndebele wall painting traditions and Esther Mahlangu, after initially spending time studying similar practices in Burkina Faso. In a glorious coincidence, Alexandra invited André Magnin to curate her African Passion exhibition (2018) in the Cadaval Palace, in Evora, Portugal, the same man who was charged with searching for African artists for the Magiciens de la Terre in Paris and who has been responsible for placing Esther on the international art map.

Fascinated as much by her paintings as by her magical aura, Alexandra was delighted to be able to make the most of her curator’s unique relationship with Esther to invite her to come to Portugal, as part of the African Passion exhibition. During their four weeks together at the palace, Alexandra and Esther formed a bond that went beyond the beautiful mural in the palace courtyard, or the painted pillars outside the palace restaurant. Alexandra, urged on by a passion for tradition transmission projects, and with a desire to help foment artistic communities, suggested a project to translate Esther’s paintings into Dhurrie tapestries, thus helping preserve the 87-year-old artist’s legacy and let her paintings live on.

The flatwoven textile traditions of India and in particular of Rajasthan can be traced back for many centuries. Passed down through the generations, each Dhurrie tapestry is carefully handwoven by skilled artisans. The craft’s generational and ornamental aspects mirror those of Ndebele painting, providing a logical partner for this project.

The result is six different designs initially, from an eventual total of ten, vividly reflecting Esther Mahlangu’s painting, while expanding the reach of her work and her artistic legacy. Beyond initial production, at a later stage the goal of this project will be to bring this newly formed cultural crossover into Mahlangu’s village, introducing weaving techniques into her community for her art and that of her people.


All items are limited edition and are available for sale.