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color-changing BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA glimmers with Esther Mahlangu's Ndebele art

bmw’s high-tech tribute to esther mahlangu


During this year’s Frieze Los Angeles art fair, the BMW Group has unveiled its latest work, a fusion of art and technology developed with the artistic language of South African artist Esther Mahlangu. The vehicle is called the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA, and it is truly one-of-a-kind. As a designer piece, it showcases the company’s color-change technology as it is wrapped with sections of electronically-animated film developed in cooperation with E Ink. Shimmering, color-shifting patterns dance across the body and wheels of the car in a contemporary tribute to the BMW Art Car designed by Mahlangu in 1991. That 12th BMW Art Car, based on a BMW 525i, was a milestone moment in itself as it marked the first to be designed by both a woman and an African artist. See more of the artist’s process through designboom’s 2018 trip with BMW to South Africa here.


Her art inspired me years ago, back when the concept of color 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 realize this idea, and work with Esther Mahlangu, is absolutely surreal.

bmw mostokana esther mahlanguimages © BMW Group



e ink: the color changing film


The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA — named after Mahlangu’s first son — is another milestone over thirty years later. The 88-year-old artist’s familiar colors and geometries are given a new life, making the fully-electric sedan a dynamic artwork blending the old and new. The effect is achieved with electronically-animated film applied in strips — two across the roof, the hood and rear, and the sides. The team at BMW compares this film to an e-book reader with several million microcapsules in each E Ink film. These contain color particles whose structure and arrangement can be changed by applying an electric voltage. In total, the car is precisely fitted with 1,349 laser-cut sections of film, each of which can be individually controlled to accurately render the intricate complexities of the artwork. This way, the colors and patterns of Mahlangu’s artwork can not only be generated along the car’s surfaces, but can constantly shift in composition.

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

bmw mostokana esther mahlangu
BMW unveils i5 Flow NOSTOKANA, an artwork fusing technology and the work of Esther Mahlangu



bmw i5 flow nostokana: an experiential artwork


More than just a visual artwork, the BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA is accompanied by a soundscape composed by Renzo Vitale,  BMW Group’s Creative Director, Sound. This soundscape is created with influences from the South African Ndebele culture, and incorporates sequences from Mahlangu’s voice, as well as the sound of the feather brushes she used for painting. These samples are combined together with sounds of color pencils used in the BMW design studio as well as the acoustic signal heard as feedback when operating the BMW i5’s touch display. The soundscape thus continues the dialogue between South African heritage and contemporary technology.

bmw mostokana esther mahlangu
the car uses color-changing technology with millions of microcapsules to display Mahlangu’s artwork and patterns



The team at BMW notes that rapid development of its color-changing technology. It was only in 2022 that the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink was presented. At that time is had the ability to switch between white and black with the push of a button. One year later, color was added as 240 film sections were able to display thirty-two colors across the BMW i Vision Dee. With the newly unveiled BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA, the 1,349 film sections are more durable, and allow for more complexity and even more colors still. While the improved durability will facilitate easier potential series production, for now the Esther Mahrandu-inspired vehicle will remain one-of-a-kind.

Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design, comments: The BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA honors 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.

bmw mostokana esther mahlangu
each laser-cut film section can be individually controlled, allowing for intricate and dynamic color displayscolor-changing BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA glimmers with Esther Mahlangu's Ndebele art
the i5 Flow NOSTOKANA offering more colors and complexity than previous E Ink iterations



Esther Mahlangu expresses her excitement about how technology expands the reach of her art

color-changing BMW i5 Flow NOSTOKANA glimmers with Esther Mahlangu's Ndebele art
BMW Research Engineer Stella Clarke works with South African artist Esther Mahradu to develop the patterning


the car is designed in tribute to Mahlangu’s 1991 BMW Art Car

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