- Art Cars The 12th machine in the series: Esther Mahlangu’s E34 525i.
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In 1991 the 12th Art Car was commissioned and featured two firsts: the first African artist and the first woman artist.
When it came to using the E34 525i as a canvas for its Art Car project BMW headed to the African continent and commissioned South African artist, Esther Mahlangu, to create something new and vibrant that hadn’t been seen before on its mobile art project.
Born in South Africa in 1936, Esther Mahlangu was taught the traditional painting technique of the Ndebele tribe by her mother. The stylistically distinctive and well-known wall paintings feature a typical Ndebele pattern and are created exclusively by women. Today Esther Mahlangu is considered the leading representative of this art form, having achieved international acknowledgement for her work. Through her art she upholds the traditions of her tribe and she started passing on her knowledge to her daughter many years ago. As the Ndebele culture does not use writing their art means a lot to them. And from time immemorial it was up to the women to design the walls of tribal homes according to their mood.
As you can see Mahlangu rose to the challenge of transferring her traditional art onto a modern carrier: the car. With this she combined two worlds. “Ndebele art has, in an entirely natural way, something slightly formal but very majestic about it; through my work I have added the idea of movement,” commented Mahlangu. “My art has evolved from our tribal tradition of decorating the home; for the Ndebele people, if you begin to paint a wall it means you are either announcing a wedding or a celebration.”
By painting the 525i she has passed on her tribe’s traditional means of expression to an object of contemporary technology. In order to develop a feel for the completely new medium, she initially painted the door of another BMW before beginning the design of the Art Car. Within one week she had transformed the car into a masterpiece of African Ndebele art.
According to Mahlangu: “I have been asked: ‘How did you paint? Did you use paper? Did you design the motive first?’. And I said: ‘No, the design is here in my head’. This car worked out nicely for me and I was so happy as so many people told me the car is so great, you did such a great job – they really went crazy about the car. The people are happy, all the people who see it are happy. When they see this car their hearts are simply filled with joy.”