In 1991, Esther Mahlangu etched her name into art and automotive history, becoming the first woman to contribute to BMW’s revered Art Car series. Her canvas? A BMW 525i, transformed into a vibrant, cultural masterpiece using an unconventional tool—feathers.
With intricate strokes, she painted the car, infusing it with the rich heritage of the Ndebele people.
For over three decades, this mobile artwork has travelled the globe, gracing exhibitions in Munich, Hong Kong, New York, Miami, Shanghai and Italy. Its presence abroad was a testament to BMW’s commitment to celebrating South African art during a pivotal period in the late 1980s. Mahlangu’s collaboration with the automotive giant not only showcased her talent but also highlighted the intersection of tradition and modernity, bringing Ndebele art to the world stage.
After 32 years abroad, the BMW adorned by Mahlangu is finally making its long-awaited return to South African soil. The car is expected to arrive in 2024 and will take centre stage at the Iziko Museums in Cape Town for a year-long exhibition. This homecoming offers locals a unique opportunity to witness firsthand the fusion of automotive engineering and cultural artistry that Mahlangu expertly crafted onto the vehicle.
Esther Mahlangu’s impact extends beyond this iconic BMW piece. Her portfolio boasts bold, contemporary paintings that serve as a canvas for her Ndebele heritage. In 2016, BMW once again sought her expertise, commissioning her to lend her artistic flair to a BMW 7 Series. This vehicle, a testament to her enduring creativity, was prominently displayed at the prestigious Frieze Art Fair in London, further solidifying Mahlangu’s place in the global art scene.
Her artistic journey is deeply rooted in familial tradition, passed down from her mother and grandmother. Mahlangu’s words resonate with unwavering passion: “Painting is in my heart and blood.” Her artistic evolution spans varied surfaces and objects, yet her love for painting remains steadfast—a constant amidst changing images and colours.
Esther Mahlangu’s artistic prowess transcends geographical boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on the global art landscape. Her legacy continues to captivate audiences worldwide, bridging cultures through the universal language of art. The impending return of her BMW masterpiece heralds a homecoming that not only celebrates her remarkable talent but also pays homage to the enduring legacy of Ndebele artistry.