South Africa in the Citi

“Xola” at Franklin St and West Broadway in Tribeca

South Africa meets the city with a mural honoring the work of artist, Esther Mahlangu. Imani Shanklin- Roberts, a New York based visual artist and teacher, is the artist behind the street art named “Xola”.

The unveiling of “Xola” marked the beginning of a month long partnership between South African Tourism and Citi Bike. The collaboration includes thirty South African themed docking stations throughout the five boroughs, showcasing South African inspired imagery.

South African artist Esther Mahlangu, inspired the mural “Xola”

The mural, at Franklin St and West Broadway, is dedicated to world renowned South African artist Mahlangu, who attended the unveiling in September and was hard to miss, dressed brightly in the ornate Ndebele style of the Mpumalanga province. Mahlangu, is synonymous with Ndebele fashion, she’s often photographed sporting the native frocks of her homeland.

Inspired by Ndebele culture, the colorful and geometric shapes, stood out against the concrete and gray facades of surrounding buildings. Shanklin- Roberts says she wanted to mirror Mahlangu’s style, “A lot of the colors I’ve seen in Esther’s work and I really wanted to stay true to that design and that energy.”

Mahlangu first gained international popularity when she was commissioned by BMW to design their Artcar in 1991 and that’s where Shanklin- Roberts was first inspired “my dad actually had a print of her BMW painted car in our home.”

Imani Shanklin- Roberts poses with Esther Mahlangu

Shanklin- Roberts, whose own style is feminine powered, and can also be seen in the mural’s curvatures, was an easy choice, though several artists applied said Eli Bovarnick, a rep for Citi Bike.

Bovarnick added, “Imani was a fantastic candidate as she felt personally connected to Esther and the vibrant culture of South Africa. She submitted a fantastic proposed mural that checked a lot of the boxes that both we and South Africa Tourism were looking for.”

“Xola”, which means stay in peace in the Xhosa language is a vibrant piece with bright reds, blues, and purples resembling the intricate art work on Ndebele homes.

The mural, which measures roughly 25 feet by 65 feet, stretches across two lanes of traffic and is half a block long, took Shanklin- Roberts and her team over a week to complete.

Spectators came from as far south as Atlanta to get a glimpse of the mural, and to meet the iconic artist who inspired it.

“I’ve been studying Esther for years and we visited South Africa in March,” said Melissa Mitchell, Director for Abeille Creations in Atlanta, “I would love to meet Esther.”

When asked how she felt to have inspired the mural, the 81-one-year old Mahlangu, who spoke through a translator, beamed and said “it’s beautiful, I feel so proud.”

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