A Legend Returns.
The unique BMW 7 Series Individual with interior trims hand-painted by legendary South African artist Esther Mahlangu is now part of the BMW Group South Africa’s Heritage Collection. Discover the story behind its remarkable return.
Central to Esther’s cultural and artistic achievement has been her ability to remain true to the traditions of Ndebele art, and to take its distinctive motifs and colours into new realms and unimagined contexts. “The way I paint was taught to me by my mother and my grandmother,” she says. “To paint is in my heart and it’s in my blood.”
South African Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu was born in 1935 in Middelburg, a small town in the north-eastern province of Mpumalanga. She became the first woman to create artwork on a BMW 525i Sedan, turning it into a unique and colourful BMW Art Car.
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. The patterns were not merely decorative; they functioned as communicative media for the community.
Esther has opened up new possibilities in meaning and expression for the traditional forms. “The images and colours have changed and I have painted on many different surfaces and objects,” says Esther. It’s fair to say it’s unlikely that Esther’s grandmother would have envisioned Ndebele art on a car in London.
Last year, Esther reprised her relationship with BMW when she was invited to decorate the interior trims of the BMW 7 Series sedan. BMW wished to demonstrate the kinds of customisations that were possible for the BMW Individual Collection, combining BMW’s cultural engagement with BMW Individual for the very first time.
“My heart was full of joy when BMW asked me to paint for them again,” says Esther.
BMW Individual Manufaktur developed a special white-coloured, fine-wood trim to be painted with Esther’s images before sealing them to ensure their longevity, and installing them.
“When BMW sent me the panels to paint, I could see the design in my head and I just wanted to get started!” says Esther. “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.”
Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of the BMW AG, explained: “Esther has created a unique work of art – a BMW 7 Series Individual that forms an extraordinary relationship between craftsmanship and Ndebele art.”
Traditionally, the patterns and graphic elements with which Ndebele women decorate the exterior walls of houses symbolise important events, such as weddings.
Art Cars on show
The BMW 7 Series Individual by Esther Mahlangu made its debut appearance at the Frieze Art Fair in London last year. (It just so happened that the original BMW 525i Art Car she created 26 years ago was at the British Museum at the same time.) After the Frieze Art Fair, a silent auction was held, and profits from the sale were donated to a good cause.
Then, at the FNB Joburg Art Fair this year, Esther’s specially commissioned wooden panels re-appeared, installed in a new BMW 750Li Individual. The vehicle now forms part of BMW Group South Africa’s Heritage Collection.
“We are delighted to share Esther’s legacy with the people of South Africa,” says Tim Abbott, CEO of BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. “Esther embraces her traditional heritage passionately and has dedicated her entire life to the development and promotion of Ndebele art.”
“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 Esther. The car will now live on as a display vehicle at various arts and cultural events with the blessing of Esther Mahlangu, preserving her cultural heritage for the people of South Africa.
Find out more about BMW Individual.