Esther Mahlangu inspects her Ndebele handiwork inside the new BMW 7-series
Esther Mahlangu inspects her Ndebele handiwork inside the new BMW 7-series
The original BMW 525i Art Car that Esther painted in 1991.
Picture: Olli1800
The original BMW 525i Art Car that Esther painted in 1991. Picture: Olli1800

Midrand/Mpumalanga. Back in 1991 Esther Mahlangu, a South African Ndebele artist, was the first woman to create artwork on a BMW 525i sedan (below), turning it into a unique and colourful BMW Art Car. 

The original BMW 525i Art Car that Esther painted in 1991. Picture: Olli1800

Last year Esther was again commissioned by the BMW Group to put her unique artistic touch on a BMW 7 Series, and the vehicle was displayed at the Frieze Art Fair in London. Simultaneously, the original BMW 525i Art Car was part of the exhibition "South Africa: the art of a nation" at the British Museum, highlighting Esther’s key role in South African art.

BWW South Africa has now become the owner of Esther's specially commissioned BMW panels painted in Ndebele art which have been installed into a new BMW 750Li Individual (below).  The vehicle will form part of BMW Group South Africa's Heritage Collection and will displayed at various Arts and Cultural events.

"I am so glad that BMW brought my art back to South Africa, it is a beautiful car to be shared with the people of South Africa for many years to come," says Mahlangu.

"The patterns I have used on the BMW panels marry tradition to the essence of BMW. When BMW sent me the panels to paint, I could see the design in my head and I just wanted to get started! I started by painting the small ones first to get the feel of the surface and then it was easy as the design follows the lines of the panels," she adds.

Esther was born a member of the Ndebele tribe in 1935 in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, and started painting at the age of ten under the guidance of her mother and grandmother.

Traditionally, Ndebele women decorate the exterior walls of houses with elaborately painted patterns and graphic elements, symbolising important events such as weddings or other celebrations. Esther has separated these decorations and patterns from her people's traditional art of painting. In the form of pictures, vessels or carpets, she has constantly brought it into new contexts, combining her artwork with items used in everyday life.

Says Tim Abbott, CEO of BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa: "We are delighted to share Esther's legacy with the people of South Africa. Esther embraces her traditional heritage passionately and has dedicated her entire life to the development and promotion of Ndebele art".

The BMW Individual 7 Series by Esther Mahlangu is a right-hand drive vehicle, boasting an array of equipment from the BMW Individual and Individual Manufaktur personalisation lines including 20” light alloy wheels in w-spoke styling and exterior bodywork painted in BMW Individual Aventurine Red Metallic.

The interior features BMW Individual full fine-grain Merino leather in Smoke White/Black, the highest quality leather available for a BMW, including seats with weave-look stitching and hand-woven piping. A BMW Individual leather steering wheel with applications in Piano finish Black and an Alcantara headliner in Smoke White complete the interior's exclusive ambience.

The car is powered by a 4.4-litre V8 turbopetrol with outputs of 330kW and 650Nm for a claimed 100 km/h sprint in just 4.7 seconds.

The BMW Art Car Project goes back to 1975 when French racing driver and auctioneer Hervé Poulain commissioned American artist and friend Alexander Calder to paint a BMW 3.0 CS for Poulain to race in the Le Mans 24-Hour race.

Since Calder's work of art, many other renowned international artists have created BMW Art Cars, including Mahlangu, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol. To date 17 BMW Art Cars, based on both racing and regular production vehicles, have been created.

Personal style with BMW Individual

Products from the BMW Individual Collection offer unique equipment options including exclusive paint finishes (such as silky matt BMW Individual Frozen paint finishes), high quality leather, and special interior trims. BMW Individual Manufaktur takes it a step further to create personalised one-of-a-kind vehicles from a palette of more than 100 special paint finishes and an expanded range of interior bling-bling.