Esther Mahlangu’s Legendary BMW Art Car Set to Grace South African Roads Again After 32-Year Hiatus


Renowned Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu’s iconic BMW 525i from the BMW Art Car series is set to make a triumphant return to South African soil after a remarkable 32-year absence.

Originally transformed into a canvas of Ndebele art and vibrant colors by the 87-year-old artist in 1991, the sedan holds a special place in history as Mahlangu became the first woman to contribute to the prestigious BMW Art Car series. Her groundbreaking approach involved using feathers to apply paint, adding a tactile and symbolic layer to the culturally rich creation. The BMW Art Car series, initiated in 1975, aimed to merge automotive engineering with artistic expression.

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Despite its global exhibitions in cities such as 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, revealed that the car is scheduled to return in 2024, allowing South Africans to witness this cultural and automotive marvel firsthand.

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The BMW Art Car initiative, conceived by French race car driver and art aficionado Hervé Poulain in 1975, began with artist Alexander Calder designing his BMW race car. The resulting BMW 3.0 CSL, a vividly painted masterpiece, raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and captured the public’s imagination.

Dr. Esther Mahlangu’s involvement in the series brought a unique perspective, bridging 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 showcased the power of art in unconventional spaces.

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Thilosh Moodally shared Mahlangu’s Art Car post-return journey, which includes public exhibitions and a year-long display at Iziko Museums in Cape Town. The vehicle serves as a symbol of cultural pride and artistic innovation, highlighting Mahlangu’s collaboration with BMW since 2016 and underscoring the potency of cultural expression in high-performance automobiles.

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