Dr Esther Mahlangu’s historic ‘art car’ has spent decades away. Soon to return home for a new generation to appreciate, here’s why the car and its place in the artist’s story is quite so iconic:
Global (16 November 2023) — Decades ago, shortly after Dr Esther Mahlangu’s work gained international attention, the artistic legend got the opportunity to expand her creative reach through what is still one of her most renowned works yet—her ‘art car’.
A commission by BMW that gave Dr Mahlangu license to give a BMW 525i a legacy like no other (following in the strokes of Frank Stella, David Hockney and Andy Warhol), the result was something that South Africa, the Ndebele people and the world, would never forget.
This was the first ‘African Art Car’ that in 1991, also saw Dr Mahlangu become the first female and non-Western person in the driving seat of the design.
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Her travelling canvas would go on to teach people around the world about Ndebele culture and South African artistry at a time when many South African artists’ work focused on important socio-political content. Dr Mahlangu’s work showcased another side to our art scene; one that was unapologetically proud and playful.
It traversed the globe in exhibitions that ranged from the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, to New York and onto Hong Kong as the years went on.
But after decades away, Dr Mahlangu’s historic creation is set to cruise home.
Next year, it will enjoy an exhibition at the Iziko Museums in Cape Town where locals and a new generation of South Africans can appreciate it first-hand.
As for Dr Mahlangu, she recently celebrated her 88th birthday on 11 November which provided time for fans to reflect on her incredible life thus far.
Hailing from Middelburg Mpumalanga, she began painting at just 10 years old, inspired by her mother and grandmother. While she was already a mature artist when her work started taking off internationally, her cultural muse-ship brought a sense of youth, vibrance and life into an art scene that inspired a new art wave of contemporary colour-play and boldness in the South African creative scene and beyond.
Dr Mahlangu earned her Honorary Doctorate in 2018, as conferred by the University of Johannesburg for her “legacy as a cultural entrepreneur who has skillfully negotiated local and global worlds and played a major role as an educator.”
As for recent big moments, she held 3 solo exhibitions earlier this year that spanned London and Paris.