DUBAI – Seven years ago, South African shoe start-up Ayashisa Amateki, which specializes in customizing sneakers, commissioned contemporary South African artist Esther Mahlangu to transform a pair of Air Jordans. His designs, valued at around $ 560,000, were unveiled at the South Africa pavilion at Expo 2020 this week.
Known for her bold large-scale paintings, referencing her Ndebele heritage, Mahlangu is the first South African to display her works on a custom Rolls-Royce Phantom. She can also count celebrities Usher, Alicia Keys, John Legend and Oprah Winfrey among her collectors.
But its goal is to preserve African traditions and culture in the face of globalization, including the practice of painting with chicken feathers. She is also a fan of cultural collaborations.
Prince Mthethwa, a Mahlangu fanatic, founded the Ayashisa Amateki studio in 2006. He said: “The climate of the Ndebele region, where Mahlangu comes from, produces the best free-range chickens, so it is where the best brushes come from. But today, there are less than 50 masons who practice this trade. It’s hard to do; you have to be patient.
“Painting with chicken feathers is a very specialized craft, aimed at consumers looking for masterpieces,” explains Mthethwa. The interest is there, he insists, especially in countries like Japan and China.
His studio’s collaboration with Mahlangu certainly caught the eye. He added: “Everyone wants to see the shoes. They want to see the video of Mahlangu at work, his feather brushes and the end result.
The sneakers are all ready to embark on a world tour. “If Elon Musk wants to take them to Mars, that’s exactly where they’re going,” says Mthethwa. “We start with showcases at the Center Pompidou in Paris, then in London, then at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. We will return to the United Arab Emirates at Louvre Abu Dhabi.
For now, enthuses Mthethwa, the sneakers will be at home at Expo 2020 Dubai. “We are at Expo 2020, and what a platform it is! The whole world is there, ”he says.
Demonstrating the art of hand painting and sneaker customization, the Expo 2020 South Africa pavilion currently features 11 different artist-enhanced designs, reflecting the 11 official languages practiced by the diverse population. of the country: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Swazi, Venda and Tsonga.
According to one of the artists, Thato Kokwana, the rise of sneaker culture is unstoppable, which is why collaborations like this are so important. He said, “Millennials and Gen Z have a connection with sneakers. When you walk down the street, or when someone starts talking to you, they automatically look at your shoes!
© Press release 2021