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Famous Esther Mahlangu BMW Art Car to Return After 32 Years

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After a 32-year absence, Esther Mahlangu’s iconic BMW 525i from the BMW Art Car series will make a momentous homecoming to South African shores.

BMW 525i designed by Esther Mahlangu (Photo Credit: BMWartcarcollection)

The 87-year-old Ndebele artist, globally acclaimed for her bold, large-scale contemporary paintings reflecting her cultural heritage, initially transformed the sedan into a canvas of Ndebele art and colours in 1991.

This project marked a historic moment as Mahlangu became the first woman to contribute to the BMW Art Car series. Her unique approach involved using feathers to apply the paint, adding a tactile and symbolic layer to the already culturally rich creation. The BMW Art Car series itself, initiated in 1975, aimed to fuse automotive engineering with artistic expression.

BMW 525i designed by Esther Mahlangu (Photo Credit: BMWartcarcollection)

Despite its global exhibitions, including events in Hong Kong, New York, Miami, Shanghai, and Italy, the 12th BMW Art Car has been absent from South Africa since its local debut. Thilosh Moodally, BMW Group South Africa’s general manager for corporate communications, disclosed that the car is to return in 2024. This further allows South Africans to witness the cultural and automotive marvel firsthand.

The BMW Art Car initiative is the brainchild of French race car driver and art aficionado Hervé Poulain. It began in 1975 when he asked artist Alexander Calder to design his BMW race car. The resulting BMW 3.0 CSL, a vividly painted masterpiece, raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and became an instant public favourite.

BMW 525i designed by Esther Mahlangu (Photo Credit: BMWartcarcollection)

Dr. Esther Mahlangu’s involvement in the series also brought a unique perspective. It bridges the gap between traditional Ndebele art and contemporary automotive design. Her ability to seamlessly merge cultural heritage with the sleek lines of a BMW sedan also showcased the power of art in unconventional spaces.

Dr Esther Mahlangu inside the Rolls-Royce Phantom which she customised with her Ndebele artwork. Image via Twitter

Moodally showcased Mahlangu’s Art Car post-return journey, including public exhibitions and a year-long display at Iziko Museums in Cape Town. The vehicle represents cultural pride and artistic innovation, and Mahlangu’s collaboration with BMW since 2016. It showcases the power of cultural expression in high-performance automobiles.


Derrick Chidumebi is a creative writer and growth marketer hailing from Lagos, Nigeria. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Industrial Chemistry from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria, and is the founder of The Eko Place, a media/marketing agency based in Lagos, Nigeria. Currently, he serves as a writer for Art News Africa.

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