“The sneaker serves as a museum itself,” says the artist behind the Proudly South African customised sneaker valued at R7.7 million. For the 85-year old world-renowned contemporary artist, Esther Mahlangu, the customisation of the Air Jordans isn’t just cool but serves as a way to speak to the younger generations through art they can understand.
“Millennials and Gen Zs aren’t visiting museums as much, tectonic plates have shifted,” Mahlangu said in speaking to Business Insider about her thought progression. Hence, the sneaker holds footing as a gateway for cultural understanding.
Now Mahlangu is well known for her colourful musings, and unconventional canvases – from planes to Rolls-Royce’s. In this exhibition, she’s focused on a way not only to communicate Ndebele culture but youth culture – with an emphasis on giving a voice to both. For Mahlangu, the sneaker canvas is the “most relevant medium to communicate to younger generations about culture.”
The sneakers were customised using a chicken feather, and that chicken feather under Esther’s tender guide has turned them into shoes are giving the world a run for their money. They’ll be travelling around the world as The South African notes, but will make a feature in the land of their inspiration before a world tour.
Showcased in Dubai at the Expo 2020, South Africa was one of 192 nations serving up a steaming pot of culture.
The Mzanzi pavilion hosted local shoe start-up, Ayashisa Amateki, who focus on customisation and documentation of sneaker culture.
A variety of sneakers were on display at the expo in late October, and the assignment was for each pair to represent our 11 official languages.
Beyond sneakers adorned in art, the South Africa pavilion featured a web of local culture – weaving live performances, fashion displays and souvenirs into the mix.
As for the Air Jordans worth millions, silver-spooned sneakerheads might be disappointed to hear that they are not for sale. Instead, the showcasing fee is set to support developing local artists through the Ayashisa Amateki academy.
Picture: Prince Menzi Mthethwa