Esther Mahlangu is a globally-recognised South African artist whose traditional Ndebele-inspired artworks have adorned objects coveted by collectors.
Her commission by BMW to create an African-inspired art car for the BMW Art Car collection earned her international acclaim – and the only thing more valuable nowadays than an Esther Mahlangu original artwork is a rolling canvas she has worked on.
While Mahlangu’s art is rooted in the Ndebele culture, she’s been considered a visionary and disruptor for choosing unorthodox canvasses like a BMW 740Li and Rolls-Royce Phantom.
A selection of her automotive work is shown below.
The 740Li was commissioned by BMW and assembled by BMW’s bespoke customisation programme, BMW Individual.
15 years after her first commission from BMW she created another special car that paid homage to Africa through the Ndebele artwork fitted to the interior.
The 740Li was outfitted with the highest level of interior and design specification as a showpiece for the Frieze Art Fair in London in 2016, and as a showpiece for what is possible with the BMW Individual programme.
It was sold on silent auction to a collector.
Many regard a standard Rolls-Royce as a moving sculpture.
Rolls-Royce’s flagship, the Phantom, take this a step further with the “Gallery” – a space spanning the dash facia enclosed by a sheet of glass.
Customers wanting a personal touch rather than the selection of wood and carbon finishings can commission and display highly personal works of art in it, like ones from Esther Mahlangu.
Like the BMW 740Li, the Phantom was sold to a collector in 2020.
Probably her least-known commission was that of the Fiat 500 for the Pigozzi collection in 2008.
Jean Pigozzi is the heir to the CEO of the auto brand SIMCA, and an avid collector of African art.
The basis for the car is a 2007 1.4 Fiat 500 Lounge – but like most of her other art cars, it’s destined to live its life in a private collection.
The BMW 525i is the car that Esther Mahlangu is most famous for.
Commissioned by BMW for its Art Car collection in 1991, she was the first female artist to contribute to the collection – paving the way for a number of BMW’s future Art Cars.
The haloed collection now includes vehicles from artists like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.