Famous in the motoring world for her collaboration with BMW in creating the 1991 'art car' inspired by her Ndebele tribe, South African artist Dr. Esther Mahlangu has put her mark on yet another car.
In 2020 'Mama Esther', as she is affectionately known, became the first South African to be commissioned to paint an artwork for a Rolls-Royce Phantom. Subsequently, the luxury car maker has renamed it 'The Mahlangu Phantom'.
Dr. Mahlangu's art is found in the Phantom's 'Gallery', a glass box inserted into the dashboard in front of the passenger side that can be personalised by the owner. This particular Rolls is fittingly owned by a well-known South African car collector.
Dr. Mahlangu's career spans seven decades and her work graces the art collections of Jean Pigozzi, Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys, Usher, John Legend, Oprah Winfrey, Trevor Noah, and Black Coffee.
More examples of her work are found on each side of the Phantom. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the car has been donated to the art school Mahlangu founded in Mpumalanga.
Image: Willie Botes
A bespoke project
The concept was conceived during a business trip by Cesar Habib who was in charge of the brand's bespoke department before to being promoted to the Head of the Middle East and African regions.
Habib told Wheels24 at the One and Only hotel: "I was here on a business trip and the conversation came up about doing something very specific to South Africa. And we were brainstorming at the Daytona showroom in Johannesburg, that has several Esther Mahlungu paintings.
"We looked at the art and said this type of art is typically South African, and then we wondered can we get a painted piece of art into the car? And that was the big question."
Habib says his job was to go to the factory in Goodwood, England and "get it approved and tested that we could put paint into a car because it had never been done before."
There was also the small matter of asking Mama Esther if she'd be willing to be part of the project and for Rolls-Royce SA to be able to find a buyer.
Fortunately, all three demands were met and the result is a beautiful Rolls-Royce Phantom that has a truly unique piece of art by one of the world's best-known artists, she also happens to be our Mama Esther.