Gladys Mgundlandlu was born near Peddie, Eastern Cape in 1923 to Mfengu parents.
A dedicated art school teacher, Mgudlandlu began painting for herself in 1952. But it was her grandmother’s death in 1957 that spurred her on to paint seriously. Mgudlandlu was deeply influenced by her rural childhood and had been taught to paint wall murals by her grandmother. She was a self-taught artist and created her own unique African expressionist style of painting using vivid colours with bold, rhythmic brush-strokes to depict landscapes, people, fauna and flora overlaid by the influence of Xhosa folklore.
Mgudlandlu worked in a variety of media using watercolour, oil paints, crayon, gouache, ink and felt-tip pens. She painted after her teaching day by the light of a paraffin lamp to create her naïve, dream-like pictures. The name ‘Nomfanekiso’ means ‘she who paints at night’. She has been criticized for not rooting her work in the socio-political protest genre current in the face of the apartheid experience. However, this is to overlook the spiritual and symbolic importance of her work.
Following the success of her second solo exhibition in 1962, Mgudlandlu said, “I think that I can claim to be the first African woman in the country to hold an exhibition. As far as I know, I am the only African woman who has taken painting seriously. It has become my first love and there is nothing else I want to do.”