Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Saturday, 18 May 2024 21:55

Nene Mahlangu set to showcase her art at Contra.Joburg.

By Jacob Mawela.

Caption: Nene Mahlangu the artist recorded during the media launch of Contra Joburg at August House-2.

With the third iteration of art showcasing platform, viz Contra.Joburg (formerly OpenStudios.Joburg) set to be unleashed onto the Johannesburg public over the weekend of May 25 and 26 – a 32-yearold artist from Ga-Rankuwa is due to take center stage among a 200-strong cast of fellow artists who'll be displaying their creations around thirteen spaces across the city.

Gifted with delectable looks complemented by an elegant dress sense and amiable demeanour, Nene Mahlangu is not a mere pretty face in the head-turning public space – but one creative force on the rise! Armed with a resume which, inter alia include being the winner of the 2023 Womxn To Watch Award, one of Mail and Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans and the lead visual artist for Grammy award-winning DJ Black Coffee’s HiIbiza residency in 2022 (for which she created 23 dynamic artworks) – she came to prominence when back in 2019, she made history by becoming the youngest woman ever to design two coins for South Africa, and the first person to feature the image of a black girl on the country's money, in commemoration of 25 years of democracy. She was amongst five artists and designers. She became one of three women commissioned to create that year's R2 and R5 circulation coins and the youngest South African to design two R2 coins under the SA25 Celebrating South Africa, South African Mint and South African Reserve Bank initiative!

Mahlangu's two monetary creations comprised of a Children's Rights coin featuring the faces of four children looking out at the horizon in emphasis that every child has the potential for a bright future as long as their essential rights are fulfilled, as well as a Right to Education coin limning a graduation cap, an open book, and a wooden cube that toddlers play with, signifying the stages and processes of education.

Caption: Nene Mahlangu's Right to Education R2 Coin for the South African Mint's commemoration of 25 anniversary of Democracy-2-2.

Regarded in art circles as a highly accomplished and multitalented visual artist her work is characterized by its ethereal and evocative representations of faith and freedom and draws inspiration from the realms of sensuality, fashion, and power. She describes her oeuvre thus: "My paintings are focused on notions of metaphysical searching. I feel compelled to visually express the physical and emotional manifestation of consciousness and the beauty of aligning to harmony. For too long I've spent my time seeking happiness and fulfilment from my environment. From social media likes, complements and seeking acceptance within groups. Currently I am growing into defining myself from within and this is the theme that I want to permeate within my work." I like seeing women (and myself) speaking positive words towards ourselves."

Being at peace and displaying a sense of power in their lives. Growing up and seeing the helplessness that existed in my environment made me have a pact with myself to strive for the complete opposite. To strive for freedom, joy and confidence from within. I paint and then use charcoal to my work. The painting has become a therapeutic way to think through my thoughts. The artworks are often stripped of colour to emphasise the removal of distractions and the hyper focus on inner peace. It has become a form of meditation to create any artwork, a way of removing that which does not serve me. This work is an homage to that power. The power that has travelled throughout generations and opened its floodgates to strengthen me."

A Bachelor of Sciences graduate from the University of Pretoria, through her company GreenMango, Mahlangu has dedicated herself to supporting emerging artists, by providing them with the skills and resources they need to succeed as entrepreneurs – with a course she initiated, viz, "Intro to Pricing
Your Art", assisting other artists in pricing their work confidently and sustainably, allowing them to fully realize the value of their creations.

She has since exhibited in far and wide destinations such as Birmingham, Ibiza, Finland and Lagos – with her international art fair debut at the prestigious Venice International Art Fair in 2020 marking a turning point in her career, thus solidifying her position as a leading figure in the global art world.

About Contra.Joburg
Contra.Joburg is Joburg's largest on-the-ground art festival, designed to give Joburg access to artists in their studios across the city, to build new art markets to unlock the work, and give opportunities to the talented and diverse base of visual artists located within the Johannesburg city centre.

"As Contra.Joburg we want to turn the art world on its head by putting the artists first, then, the market; to build a strong and sustainable visual arts ecosystem through support programmes,market development and creating visibility for artists in the Johannesburg city centre", says Sara Hallat, founder and Director of the META Foundation – the initiative's creator.

This year's event, takes place on Saturday, 25 May and Sunday, 26 May, 2024 and will showcase creativity across the city centre, with 12 venues participating in the biggest edition to date.

For more information about the event and the participating venues, please visit