Between tradition and tourism: Tinga Tinga painting

12 Nov

It all began with Edward Saidi Tingatinga, who was born in 1937 to a family of subsistence farmers in southern Tanzania. In 1953 he traveled to Dar-es-Salaam in search of work and labored at odd jobs in the construction industry until 1961. Impressed by the ease with which western style paintings by Zairian artists sold to tourists he decided to try his hand as a painter. Since he could not afford to purchase art supplies, he began with scavenged materials, painting on discarded ceiling boards using dregs of bicycle enamel, household paint and old paintbrushes. Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga was a self taught painter, with only 4 years of primary school education. Despite this unpromising beginning, he quickly developed a new and unique artistic style. His colorful, crowded paintings depicted fantastic animals and birds, dancing tribes people and scenes of village life. His lack of formal training led to a simple, direct and naive approach to natural subjects, lacking in nuance and detail but bursting with exuberant life, whimsy and color.

The paintings sold well and Tingatinga recruited members of his family to copy them. Early Tingatinga paintings show flat, two-dimensional animals painted against a plain background. Each is related to a legend or saying from Tingatinga’s Makua tribal culture. Though the subject matter is rural, the painting is a distinctly urban art form, evolved on the streets of Dar-es-Salaam and conceived not as a means of personal expression, but as a method of earning money. With its cheerful subject matter, Tingatinga’s art was calculated to appeal to the romantic notions of African life held by tourists.

In 1972, in the midst of a burgeoning artistic career, Edward Tingatinga was shot dead by police in a case of mistaken identity. His fellow artists in Dar formed the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society in his name, and the style he originated became a school of painting for artists from Dar and Zanzibar. Today, the Tinga Tinga artists working in Dar and Zanzibar produce paintings faithful to the generic Tinga Tinga themes of big game and birds. Zanzibari artists have influenced traditional Tinga Tinga themes, adding fish, monkeys, coconut palms, musical instruments and people. Current Tinga Tinga artists paint on stretched muslin and canvas. Many uphold the tradition of painting only with bicycle enamel. The paintings are popular in Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland as well as the USA.

Tinga Tinga art has its roots in the African tradition to decorate the hut walls. This has been observed especially in south Tanzania, the homeland of the Tinga Tinga painters and
Edward Saidi Tingatinga. The paintings were painted by pigments found in nature. The motives were animals and people.

It was first in 1968 when Westerners learned about this art through Edward Saidi Tingatinga who painted on the square wooden sheets by the enamel colours. After the death of E.S.Tingatinga the painters called a meeting where they decided to call all these paintings “Tinga Tinga”.

The paintings by E.S. Tingatinga were so popular that they were demanded in high numbers by tourists and expats living in Tanzania. The painters have soon noticed which paintings were popular and have further developed them. In this regard both painters and art lovers have participated in the Tinga Tinga art style. It has reflected even in the materials used. The wooden sheets were replaced by canvas for easier transport by air planes.

http://www.tingatinga.org/tingatinga_art.html

The Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society (TACS) was registered on 28th July 1990 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. But the decision to form a Cooperative was not straightforward. After Edward Saidi Tingatinga was hit tragically by a police bullet in 1972 he left behind only six students: Simon Mpata, January Linda, Adeus Matambwe, Kasper Henric Tedo, Abdallah Ajaba and Omari Amonde.

The artists were disorganised until Mr. Salum Mussa (Mzee Lumumba) came up with the idea to form a Tinga Tinga Partnership. Under the umbrella of the Tinga Tinga Partnership the work of the artists expanded and in 1990 it was time to form a stronger organisation – The Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society.  Now the TACS has 53 active members including
the son and the daughter of E.S.Tingatinga and around 30 associated painters.

The Tinga Tinga community in Tanzania consists of around 700 painters who paint every day on the streets of Dar es Salam, near the beaches of Zanzibar or under the highest African
mountain Kilimanjaro. A few painters reached to Kenya, South Africa and as far as Europe, Japan and America. They are linked together either by family or friendship.

Until 1996, the artists were working under no shelter and were faced with unfavorable working conditions. Life became hard especially during rain and wind season. They were sometimes
even unable to buy raw materials because of poor business returns. The sale of 600 paintings after an exhibition in Switzerland served to raise funds for the construction of an art gallery, in Morogoro Stores. Actually, about 50 artists are working in that place and many people travelling in Dar-es-Salaam are coming to visit their cooperative.

Tingatinga is a concept that development assistance workers and African tourists alike have been drawn to, but which, over time, has lost its uniqueness. In the past, Tingatinga art
could be sold on its name alone, but increasingly other works of art are being presented as “Tingatinga” as well.

From a purely technical standpoint, Tinga Tinga art can be defined as painting on wooden sheets or canvas using enamel industrial paint which are widely used for painting of windows or metals. The paintings can be as small as 20x20cm, while the biggest reach several meters in diameter. The painting technique is complicated as the painter must wait until each layer of the oil color dries before the next layer is applied. Market limitations have prevented artists from working in larger formats. A majority of the buyers have been foreigners wanting to transport the images out of the country by airplane. From that perspective, Tingatinga is a genuine form of “airport art” – cultural art from developing nations that has been adapted to the special requirements of long-distance travelers, including size. Also the choice of motifs in Tingatinga art has often been adapted to the purchaser’s expectations of what should be included in an African painting.

The heart of Tingatinga art iscentered on coastal east African design, where the decorative vines and patterns of the Swahili culture cover delineated spaces that are never allowed to remain completely empty.

By filling surfaces as completely as possible, with one or more of these animals, Tingatinga artists often use the motifs as if they were a part of the Swahili tradition. Animal figures are
drawn so that they in their entirety fit into the frame of masonite, or two animals are decoratively placed next to each other, as if they were intertwined calligraphy letters from an artistically rendered, Arabic Koran verse.

http://www.tingatingastudio.com/menu_about.html

Today Tinga Tinga is a concept that wide public has been drawn to, but which, over time, has lost its uniqueness. In the past, Tinga Tinga art and products could be sold on its name
alone, but increasingly other works are being presented as “Tinga Tinga” as well.

And as you are in Stone Town, bring out your inner artist with Tinga Tinga Lesson with Mtoni Palace Conservation Project: http://www.mtoni.com/palaceruins.html#conserv

Tinga Tinga Lesson with Mtoni Palace Conservation Project

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