Photos: 81-year-old South African Woman Ndebele Artist Esther Mahlangu Paints All-New BMW Individual 7 Series. Read Her Story
German car maker BMW has partnered with South African Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu in the production of a luxury BMW Individual 7 Series sedan car.
Over the years, BMW has earned the reputation for producing some of the world’s most-impressive automobile masterpieces, and now, the car maker has taken its brand one step further by collaborating with world-renowned Ndebele artist Mahlangu to produce a car that combines the best in performance with the unequaled beauty of an authentic Ndebele design.
Born in 1935 in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa, 81-year-old Esther Mahlangu is a world-famous Ndebele artist and member of the southern Ndebele tribe. Among the Ndebele people, it is the job of women to adorn the homestead with intricate paintings and motifs. Consequently, as a child, Mahlangu learned the art of painting under the guidance of her mother and grandmother.
Traditional Ndebele art features colorful and intricate geometric paintings. The designs are made using a motif and is characterized with repeated geometric shapes bound by a thin black border in distinct contrast with the white background. In the old days, the pigmentation used was prepared from a mixture of cow dung and chalk.
In ancient times, Ndebele women decorated the walls of their houses with elaborately painted patterns and graphic elements to commemorate important occasions, such as wedding ceremonies or the circumcision of boys between 18 and 20 which served as a rite of passage in to adulthood.
The paintings also served to reflect the status of the homeowner and was also a form of non-verbal communication among the Ndebeles, which was of particular importance during the Boer occupation of their homeland.
Dr. Ian Robertson of BMW AG described the company’s partnership with Mahlangu as unique, saying, “Within the framework of the long-term partnership with Frieze and Frieze Masters, we are combining our cultural engagement with BMW Individual for the very first time.
“I am delighted that we have been able to work again with Esther Mahlangu, an exceptional artist and someone I remember well from my time in South Africa. Together, with experts from BMW Individual Manufaktur and BMW Group Design, Esther has created a unique work of art: a BMW Individual 7 Series that forms an extraordinary relationship between craftsmanship and Ndebele art.”
This is not the first time Mahlangu has partnered with the BMW company. In 1991, Mahlungu worked with BMW to create the BMW 525i, which was described as the first “African Art Car.” Her design was later exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in 1994.
Her designs have also featured prominently on British Airways planes and on the Fiat 500 as well as on several international forums, such as the Museum of Art and Design in New York and the Urban Interpretation, Graffik Gallery London U.K.
Describing her partnership with BMW, Mahlangu said, “My art has taken me all over the world, and I have seen many places. I have painted many walls and objects and my work is in many museums, but I am still Esther Mahlangu from Mpumalanga in South Africa. My heart was full of joy when BMW asked me again to paint for them.”
In the production of the Individual 7 Series, BMW’s designers developed a special manufacturing process that provided Mahlungu with white-colored, fine-wood trim to be covered with the unique Ndebele designs; Mahlungu’s Ndebele design will feature prominently in the areas around the 7 Series’ dashboard.
The vehicle’s interior features BMW Individual full fine-grain Merino leather in Smoke White/Black, the highest quality leather available for a BMW, and includes seats with weave-look stitching and hand-woven piping.
The BMW Individual 7 Series comes with a 3.0 litre engine and can go from 0 to 62 mph in 5.6 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph fed by a 320 horsepower engine, generating 330 pound-feet of torque.
The BMW 7 Individual Series will go on public exhibition at Frieze Art Fair London in October and then be auctioned in a silent bidding process. The proceeds from the sale is expected to go toward funding the Art Room, a charity that supports children ages 5 to 16 years.
A regular BMW 7 series is expected to retail for £71,000 in the U.K., but auctioneers expect the version featuring Muhlangu’s work to go for as much as £200,000.
BY MARK BABATUNDE