Esther Mahlangu’s art lives on in new BMW i5

The BMW Group presents a fusion of art and innovation at the Frieze Los Angeles art fair in the form of the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA.

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The one-of-a-kind vehicle combines colour-change technology developed by BMW with the artistic language of South African artist, Esther Mahlangu. The designer piece, with sections of attached film that can be electronically animated, embodies the latest development in colour-change technology for vehicle surfaces in cooperation with E Ink.

The contemporary tribute recalls the BMW Art Car designed by Mahlangu in 1991. “The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA honours the history of the BMW brand and continues the story of our global cultural engagement in a unique way. It combines art and design through progressive technology. Here, technology itself becomes art,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design.

In 1991, Esther designed the 12th BMW Art Car, based on a BMW 525i – becoming the first woman and first African artist to do so. “Her art inspired me years ago, back when the concept of colour change on a car was just an idea in my head,” says Stella Clarke, Research Engineer Open Innovations at the BMW Group.

The new and the old. The South African connection is clearly visible.

“Now, being able to realise this idea and work with Esther Mahlangu is absolutely surreal.” The 88-year-old artist’s signature colours and geometric patterns are perfect for bringing the innovative Flow technology to life in the BMW i5. The versatility of the electrophoretic colour changes makes the fully-electric sedan a dynamic work of art. “It is fascinating for me to see how modern technology can expand my art and make it accessible to a completely new audience,” says Esther.

In the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA, which is named after Esther’s first son, sections of film that can be electronically animated are applied, with two strips each across the roof, bonnet and rear section, as well as the vehicle’s sides.

The animations are also accompanied by an equally extraordinary sound, specially composed by Renzo Vitale, the BMW Group's Creative Director, Sound, for the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA. To combine the soundscape of the BMW brand with that of the South African Ndebele culture, Vitale used sequences from Esther’s voice, as well as the sound of the feather brushes she used for painting.

These were combined with sounds produced by the colour pencils employed in the BMW design studio and the acoustic signal heard as feedback when operating the BMW i5’s touch display. This created a sound mix that starts off softly at the beginning of each colour change and increases in intensity as the animation progresses.

As a globally respected artist, Esther Mahlangu is known for her Ndebele paintings, whose ornamentation originally symbolised major events or festive occasions. Esther separated the designs from their original meaning and transferred them for the first time to canvas, carpets and everyday objects, thus preserving them for the future. The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA has now reinterpreting this artistic language.

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