South African artist Esther Mahlangu’s 1991 design of a BMW 525i will be displayed at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City from November 17, 2010 – May 15, 2011. The BMW Art Car is a part of The Global Africa Project which explores the impact of African visual culture on contemporary art, craft and design around the world.
Mahlangu uses the traditional painting technique of her African Ndebele tribe. The stylistically distinctive and well-known Ndebele patterns are created exclusively by the women of the tribe. Esther Mahlangu is considered the leading representative of this art form, having achieved international acknowledgement for her work. Born in South Africa in 1936, Esther Mahlangu was taught the traditional painting technique of the Ndebele tribe by her mother. She upholds the traditions of her tribe and already began passing on her knowledge to her daughter many years ago.
“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,” said Esther Mahlangu. “My art has evolved from our tribal tradition of decorating the home,” says the African painter Esther Mahlangu commenting on her work.
By painting the BMW 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 with the design of the Art Car. Within one week she had transformed the car into a masterpiece of African Ndebele art.
Since 1975, artists from throughout the world have turned BMW automobiles into art signifying a particular period through the Art Car program. Many of the cars by the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Stella, Rauschenberg, Hockney and Holzer have been exhibited in renowned museums throughout the world including the Louvre, the Guggenheim Museums, and the Shanghai Art Museum. Over the 35 years of the BMW Art Car program, 17 art cars have been added to the collection, the most recent is the BMW M3 GT2 by Jeff Koons that was unveiled earlier this year. Mahlangu was the first female and first African BMW Art Car artist to join the program.