Home / Social media / News / Celebrated Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu’s BMW 525i Art Car is heading back to SA.


If you don’t know Esther Mahlangu, are you even South African? Well, on the off chance that you don’t know, Esther Mahlangu is easily the most famous Ndebele contemporary artist ever thanks to an amazing career spanning more than 50 years with global acclaim. One of her most famous artworks involved BMW after she was commissioned to paint one of the automaker’s iconic BMW Art Cars in 1991. At the time, Esther Mahlangu became both the first woman commissioned for the job, but also the first African to do so. The car painted was a BMW 525i, and it’s back in the country after more than 30 years to be shown at a curated exhibition: “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu. A Retrospective. The colab between Iziko Museums of South Africa and BMW has resulted in this amazing initiative, and it will be on view at Iziko Museums of South Africa from February 18 until August 11, 2024, and then from there, it will begin a global tour, stopping first at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, before moving to the United States in early 2026. “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”, says Esther Mahlangu. Peter van Binsbergen, CEO of BMW Group South Africa. commented: “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.”

Through the language of colour and form, the exhibition charts Mahlangu’s contribution to contemporary art for 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 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”, Curator Nontobeko Ntombela remarks. Continuing, “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”, she says. 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. Of the exhibition, Dr Bongani Ndhlovu, Acting CEO, of Iziko Museums of South Africa, says: “Iziko Museums is honoured to celebrate the living legend, Dr Esther Mahlangu, and to host this colossal showcase where creativity, culture, and aesthetics are fused.” He continues, “Dr. Mahlangu is a living symbol of triumph against adversity. Her approach to art has inspired generations and is a reaffirmation of calls for Africa-centred innovations.”

Take a look at the YouTube video that shows off all angles of the famed BMW Art Car painted by Esther Mahlangu in 1991. We love the look, but that's because we're patriotic AF. She actually painted a 2nd BMW Art Car in 2017, that one was a 7-Series BMW Individual that was painted 25 years after the 525i: BMW 525i Art Car by Esther Mahlangu (1991) | The Wheel Network

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