This South African Artist Had A Head-Turning Exhibit At Frieze Los Angeles

This year at Frieze Los Angeles, the BMW Group debuted a new one-of-a-kind color-changing car developed with art from South African artist Esther Mahlangu that synergizes art, design, and technology.

The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA is so named after “Mahlangu’s first son.” E Ink technology allows “the typical colours and patterns of Mahlangu’s art to be generated in constantly changing compositions…[in] two strips each across the roof, bonnet and rear section, as well as the vehicle’s sides.”

“It is fascinating to me to see how modern technology can expand my art and make it accessible to a completely new audience,” said Mahlangu.

This South African Artist Had A Head-Turning Exhibit At Frieze Los Angeles
South African artist Esther Mahlangu, 81, poses in front of her artwork on March 1, 2017 at the Melrose Gallery in Johannesburg. South African artist Esther Mahlangu has produced six paintings reproduced from and inspired by drawings created by Nelson Mandela in her signature Ndebele style, with the exhibition also including previous work by Mahlangu. (Photo by GULSHAN KHAN / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION – TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo by GULSHAN KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

BMW and South Africa have a rich history—during the early 2000s, BMWs emerged as “incontrovertible proof that you have made it…In townships they call it Black Man’s Wish.” In fact, the first entirely Black-owned BMW dealership was opened in a downtown district of South Africa, which “used to be apartheid’s capitalist citadel,” per The Guardian.

The globally acclaimed South African artist Mahlangu, “was a disruptor from an early age, becoming the first person to reimagine Ndebele design that is traditionally used for decorating houses on contemporary mediums.”

As background, the British Museum notes that in South Africa, “[u]nder apartheid the Ndebele were forced to live in ethnically defined rural reserves – their designs are an expression of cultural identity, and can be read as a form of protest against racial segregation and marginalisation.”

After the loss of their ancestor’s lands, Ndebele women responded by making “distinctive beadwork for significant events, artworks that identified the Ndebele as a separate cultural identity. In the 1940s, the Ndebele adapted these designs and painted them on their homesteads.”

For Mahlangu, the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA is truly a full-circle moment. More than three decades ago, in 1991, when she participated in the BMW Art Car Collection, “she became the first lady and first African to” do so.

In addition to Frieze Los Angeles, you can view more of BMW’s “rolling sculptures” in France at “the 24 Hour race of Le Mans in June 2024, where BMW’s 20th Art Car will be driven, which Ethiopian-born artist Julie Mehretu was unanimously chosen to design.

An exhibition in Cape Town, “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”: Esther Mahlangu. A Retrospective, also runs until August 11, 2023, featuring Mahlangu’s original BMW Art Car, which was the inspiration for the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA. This is “the first time in over 30 years” that the Art Car will be displayed in South Africa.

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