22/09/2017 09:00 SAST | Updated 22/09/2017 09:00 SAST

When Will Mam' Esther Mahlangu Get Recognition in SA?

Despite her New York City mural, South Africans want the legend honoured at home.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu is rarely honoured at home, South Africans say.

South Africans voiced their disappointment with government officials on Twitter this week after 81-year old Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu was honoured with a mural dedicated to her work in New York City in the U.S. They wanted to know when local artists would get the respect they are afforded internationally.

"We should be hanging our heads in shame for not recognising our own talent, waiting for the artist to die in poverty," one online user said, echoing the sentiments of hundreds of other social media users.

This was in response to Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who was the subject of intense online scrutiny after his tweet about Mahlangu's mural in New York -- calling the internationally exhibited painter "legendary" -- backfired.

Mahlangu's mural was painted by a US artist after being commissioned by New York-based bike-share service Citi Bike, who painted a station with a mural similar in style to her signature graphics. The initiative was part of a partnership with SA Tourism and SAA.

Outspoken South African journalist Victor Dlamini got into a spat with the minister, asking: "Where is the mural honouring Esther Mahlangu in South Africa? It can't be left to New York City to give Esther this gift." The minister responded: "Hi Victor, Citi Bike Station Plaza where the mural is situated in New York is operated amongst others by South African Tourism."

The minister went on to say that the artist had been honoured in her hometown. "There are plenty spaces that exhibit our living legend's work, starting in her homestead in Mpumalanga, some which span several decades."

But Dlamini didn't accept that: "That's nice to know. It still doesn't change the fact that it's in New York."

The online heat continues, and no official statement has been issued.