Esther Mahlangu

1991 BMW 525i

The 12th Art Car was the first to have been signed by a woman. This is not the only fact that makes this BMW 525i so special. The South African artist Esther Mahlangu coated the bodywork of the car with the bright colors and clearly distinguishable ornamental shapes typical of her ethnic tribal Ndebele art.

The ancient African art could not provide a more striking contrast to such a top-end, high speed, high-tech model capable of reaching 225 km/h. Esther was delighted that the Art Car managed to help introduce her tribal art to such a broad audience.


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Esther Mahlangu | South Africa

Born in the Middleburg district in the Transvaal province of South Africa in 1936, Esther Mahlangu learned traditional Ndebele painting from her mother. One of the many tribal art forms found in South Africa, the striking and instantly recognizable Ndebele mural painting of huts — undertaken only by the women of the tribe — is well known in the country of her birth. Each pattern has a significance and meaning, much of which has been lost in the mists of time.

Esther Mahlangu is recognized as a leading exponent of this art form in South Africa and she is now permanently attached to the Botshabelo Outdoor Museum near her birthplace. Recently she has made the transition from exclusively mural painting to working on canvas.

She has exhibited her work throughout South Africa and recently gained international recognition when she was asked to exhibit in Paris. Esther bears with pride a responsibility for perpetuating a tribal art form of striking intensity and her own daughter is being trained to carry on the tradition.

1991 BMW 525i

  • 6-cylinder inline engine
  • 4 valves per cylinder
  • Overhead camshaft
  • Displacement: 2,494 cc
  • Power output: 250 bhp
  • Top speed: 221 km/h

Esther Mahlangu and the BMW Art Car

“Ndebele art is naturally grandiose in form and only needed the concept of motion added.”

The BMW 525i painted by Esther Mahlangu is a transfer of tribal tradition to a modern idiom of high technology. She found the transition natural, yet challenging. Conscious of the exalted company she was joining in being invited to add to the BMW Art Car collection, Esther Mahlangu is particularly proud of the fact that she is the first woman artist in the collection.

“My art has evolved from the tribal tradition of decorating our homes. The patterns I have used on the BMW Art Car marry tradition to the essence of BMW.”

— Esther Mahlangu

After practicing on a BMW door to enable her to gain a feel of the medium completely different to her existing experience, Esther Mahlangu painted directly onto a white BMW, transforming it in a little over a week to the completed project.

Esther Mahlangu’s BMW Art Car made its first appearance at three exhibitions of Art Cars in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa in late 1991. Thereafter, it traveled to Germany and then exhibited elsewhere around the world together with the balance of the Art Car collection.

As with all the more recent additions to the BMW Art Car Collection, the Mahlangu BMW, while complete in every respect, will remain exclusively a work of art and will never be driven on the road.