BMW celebrates artistic journey of Esther Mahlangu

Debuting in Cape Town, the Retrospective Exhibition showcases Esther Mahlangu’s lifework, featuring the artist’s BMW Art Car as a central exhibition piece.

Munich/Cape Town — January 16, 2024: The Iziko Museums of South Africa and BMW are pleased to announce “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu. A Retrospective.

The exhibition, curated by Nontobeko Ntombela, highlights Esther Mahlangu’s over 50-year long career and her meteoric rise as a contemporary artist, earning her global acclaim.

The retrospective will be on view at Iziko Museums of South Africa from February 18, 2024 until August 11, 2024. From there it will begin its global tour, stopping first at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, before moving to the United States in early 2026.

BMW is proud to support this landmark exhibition which honours the talent of Esther Mahlangu and celebrates a shared history of collaboration. Included in this exhibition will be Mahlangu’s BMW 525i Art Car, returning to South Africa for the first time in over 30 years.

Mahlangu became the first African and woman to paint a BMW Art Car in 1991. This collaboration marked a significant moment in the art world, blending African art with contemporary automotive design.

“Painting has always been a part of me. I cannot separate it from myself, and neither would I want to. I look forward to sharing my practice and long and colourful story with you on my upcoming Retrospective Exhibition.”

— Esther Mahlangu


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The artist

Through the language of colour and form, the exhibition charts Mahlangu’s contribution to contemporary art close to seven decades. More than 100 artworks have been gathered from global collections. They have been placed alongside historic photographs and a short film.

This diverse collection from Mahlangu’s expansive oeuvre which features in “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu. A Retrospective, will offer a comprehensive yet intimate insight into her vast and vibrant career.

“Mahlangu’s journey is a testament to passion, innovation, and resilience. The retrospective pays homage to Esther Mahlangu’s unique approach to art, which intersects African cultures with modernity and the contemporary. The exhibition celebrates Mahlangu’s voice, agency, and pioneering spirit, symbolizing her self-enunciation, self-determination and creativity.”

— Curator Nontobeko Ntombela

The retrospective

The retrospective is a landmark achievement for South African art. It recognizes Mahlangu as one of the few South African artists who have had the opportunity to present a Retrospective Exhibition in world-renowned museums.

Dr. Bongani Ndhlovu, Acting CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa, says:

“Iziko Museums is honored to celebrate the living legend, Dr Esther Mahlangu, and to host this colossal showcase where creativity, culture, and aesthetics are fused. Dr. Mahlangu is a living symbol of triumph against adversity. Her approach to art has inspired generations and is a re-affirmation of calls for Africa-centred innovations.”

“The BMW Group’s commitment to this exhibition is a testament to our respect and admiration for Dr Esther Mahlangu’s pioneering spirit and remarkable contribution to the world of art.

This exhibition not only celebrates the incredible journey and legacy of Mam’ Esther but also symbolizes a cherished collaboration that dates back over three decades.

We are especially excited about the return of the BMW Art Car to South African soil – a significant symbol of our shared history and appreciation for art that transcends boundaries.”

— Peter van Binsbergen, CEO of BMW Group South Africa