Gladys Mgudlandlu lost her own mother at an early age and her first 12 years were spent with her grandmother. In 1957, at the age of forty – the same year as the death of the grandmother, who had taught her to paint murals as a young girl and instilled in her a love of Fingo and Xhosa tradition – Gladys Mgudlandlu began to paint seriously. She enjoyed success and recognition from the beginning, holding her first solo exhibition in 1961. Part of her rich heritage was the bird lore of the Eastern Province. Mgudlandlu knew much about the bird-life of the region, and referred to birds in an intimate manner, calling them her ‘friends’. She herself was called unontaka or ‘the bird lady’. Interviewed once by a journalist she remarked:
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