Art meets tech

One-of-a-kind vehicle combines colour-change technology with the artistic language of Esther Mahlangu.

In the wake of the opening of Iziko Museum’s Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting: Esther Mahlangu, A Retrospective - which features the 12th BMW Art Car Mahlangu designed in 1991 - BMW unveiled the latest meeting of art and technology at Frieze Los Angeles. The BMW i5 Flow Nostokana is a colour-changing vehicle featuring the colourful artwork and geometric patterns for which Mahlangu is famed.


Mahlangu’s original Art Car, which made her the first woman and African to do so, inspired the design of the new vehicle in more ways than one. ‘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. ‘Now, being able to realise this idea, and work with Esther Mahlangu, is absolutely surreal.’ 


Named after Mahlangu’s first son, Nostokana features BMW’s colour-change technology and 1 349 sections of E ink film that allow portions of the bright geometric artwork to be electronically animated. Like an e-book reader, there are several million microcapsules in each E ink film, meaning the structure and arrangement of the colour particles they contain can be changed by applying an electric voltage. This allows the typical colours and patterns of Mahlangu’s art to be generated in constantly changing compositions.


According to the team behind the car, the 88-year-old artist’s signature colours and geometric patterns were 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 to me to see how modern technology can expand my art and make it accessible to a completely new audience,’ says Mahlangu. 


The animated vehicle was accompanied by a soundscape specially composed by Renzo Vitale, the BMW Group's Creative Director, Sound. To combine the soundscape of the BMW brand with that of the South African Ndebele culture, Vitale used sequences from Mahlangu’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.


‘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.




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