WATCH: Esther Mahlangu’s art comes alive in colour-changing BMW i5 Nostokana

Published Mar 1, 2024


Renowned around the world for her colourful Ndebele paintings, South Africa’s Esther Mahlangu needs no introduction.

In automotive circles she is best known for the BMW 525i Art Car of 1991, and it’s that very car that inspired the new creation that you see here, with a very modern twist.

The new BMW i5 Flow Nostokana, named after Esther’s first son, can change its colours right before your eyes using E Ink technology. And there’s an inspiring story behind its development.

Revealed at the Frieze Los Angeles art fair this week, the Nostokana features sections of attached film across its side, bonnet, roof and rear, which can be electronically animated.

Much like an e-book reader, the E Ink film contains millions of micro-capsules whose colour particles can be altered by applying an electric voltage.

But don’t take our word for it, check how it works in the video below:

Using the latest evolution of the company’s E Ink technology, the i5 Nostokana features 1,349 surface segments that can be individually controlled and animated.

BMW research engineer Stella Clarke, who comes from a humble background where females were not groomed for success, said Esther’s art inspired her many years ago when the concept of colour change on a car was just an idea in her head.

“It’s quite surreal. This image of Esther Mahlangu sitting in her BMW with her own artwork on the dashboard, with the most satisfying grin of joy on her face, inspired this project,” Clarke enthused.

“She was the first woman to have painted an art car, and she is the absolute epitome of joy and passion in what you do. And now the ability for me to take this inspiration and interpret it in a way where I show my joy and passion for technology and innovation is quite an honour,” the engineer added.

Clarke said the concrete idea of E Ink and colour change in a car was sparked by her fascination for the technology of colour change.

“I was so convinced of this idea that I pitched it internally. And within BMW you can pitch an idea, get a little bit of money for it and start building the first samples.”

This technology was first presented on the BMW iX Flow concept revealed at the CES show in 2022.

For the i5 Nostokana project, Clarke travelled to Mahlangu’s home in Mpumalanga and showed her a sheet of E Ink with her design changing colours.

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

As an aside, this news comes as BMW is launching the new i5 electric sedan and its ICE powered new-generation 5 Series in South Africa and you can read more about those here.

But first, if you have five minutes, why not watch Clarke’s story in the video below:

IOL Motoring

Related Topics: