While strolling in Tanzania you will come across wild dotted animals painted on canvas. You may find some more dancing with the masai on stone carvings or single headed statues on stationary like pencil. Inquisitive, you may spot them on hotel walls, hanging on the doors of narrow lanes where the vendor attracts art lovers. Finally, to quench your thirst you halt at Morogoro stores at Oyster Bay in Dar-es-Salaam where the tale of Tinga Tinga legacy unfolds in front of you….
Every day, as early as eight o’ clock in the morning, a guild of few privileged and highly skilled artists assemble at their workstation to which they also refer as their village. Whether under the scorching heat, a windy day or heavy rains, artists as young as 18 years to as old as 70 sit in their shacks, surrounded by canvas boards and box of vivid oil paints creating masterpieces. From distance, it may appear as if they are simply painting like any other artist would. It is only when you get closer to them, you would realize they are producing intrinsic work of fine art.
From exaggeration of minuscule butterflies to the creatively imagined dotted animals, abstract patterns of birds to the real imagined people, all embellished in the arms of the nature bound landscapes of Tanzania, an impeccable art form, of what the world refers to as Tinga Tinga paintings.
What is Tinga Tinga? Or rather who was Tinga Tinga?!
Tinga Tinga before becoming a style of a painting was a simple man, the beloved Edward Said Tinga Tinga who had introduced a particular style of painting after a long journey of struggle. Born in 1932 in the Ruvuma region of Tanzania, Edward was the first born in a peasant’s family and due to unfavorable circumstances, he was unable complete his education. Fortune directed him to Tanga around 1957 and later Dar-es-Salaam, the city that made him what he was meant for….
Cycling on the streets of Oyster Bay, selling fruits and vegetables, Edward also had an inclination towards aesthetics of creating embroidery designs on pillow, bed covers and table clothing. Later he also weaved mats and baskets. Gradually he started designing houses of people by painting their walls, and finally settled to use the paint brush dipped in oil paint to create animals, scenes and motifs on square boards displayed at his residence which he sold along with his wife and nephew Omari Amonde priced at 10-30 Tanzanian shillings. Edward’s painting were praised mainly by the tourists, who paid him double the amount, up to 60 shillings. The demand for his work grew and so he involved his five cousins, encouraging them to do their own paintings.
Unfortunately, Edward Tinga Tinga was shot mistakenly as a thief, marking 1972 as the end of this creative artist. However at the age of forty, Edward left behind samples of his work imitated by his cousins who later taught to a few hundred working today under the Tinga Tinga Art Co-Operative Society (TACS). His privileged five students who were his cousins bequeathed Tinga Tinga Art as a movement and Edward’s studio at Oyster Bay ( in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania) was refurnished as a school to train Tinga Tinga painters in a coop where they learn and sell their art work till date.
The Legacy Continues
Edward left behind him his family that valued his creativity and took forward his legacy, supporting the co-operative society. Daudi, the only son of Edward was four years old when his father passed away. As he grew up, he took up the profession, similar to his father. Daudi nostalgically narrates, “I used to paint birds. I drew a lot of them, but when the tourists came here they were demanding for paintings like my father’s, especially the animals like chui (cheetah). Surprisingly, I could draw just like my father and people poured in with huge orders…they really liked them. Some people, especially the tourists come here to learn how my dad used to create such beautiful art work….”
Today, TACS consists of 120 authentic Tinga Tinga artists who are trained either by Edward himself or by his students and their successors. A Tinga Tinga style is true to itself and remains clearly distinct from the rest. When one gazes over several paintings kept together, a Tinga Tinga painting stands alone, keeping the viewer simply awestruck.
Tinga Tinga painting mostly contains animals, the true beauty of Africa that has spelled several visitors since time immemorial. These animals are painted in a simple style and artistically designed with dots. Admiring creatures created on a fine background, one realizes that he is unfolding a story, either his/her own interpretation or the reflection of the artists mind.
Style of Tinga Tinga Painting
The Tinga Tinga artist only uses a brush and enamel paints to create his art work. They first paint a background in either single colour or multiple layers and let it dry patiently. After giving outlines to their subjects and painting over it, the inner designs are created with free hand, each artist having their own style and creativity. While one artist may narrate tales of animals the others paint the poem of birds, fancy butterflies, swirling fishes, colourful fruits and most essentially the history and the natural beauty of Tanzania reflected unfailingly in every painting.
Mr Ibrahim Omary who is the present Vice-Chairman of TACS says “The Tinga Tinga reflects a lot about the attractions of Tanzania and that is how many tourists have learnt about. In many paintings you can see national parks, mountains like that of Kilimanjaro, valleys, animals and so on…. These are nature’s gifts to Tanzania, and that is why so many people around the globe come to visit our country”. A Tinga Tinga artist will paint everything that is concerned with Tanzania including people, social issues such AIDS, the Muhimbili Hospital, the Kariakoo market, and of course not forgetting our dancing culture the Ngoma and the Masais.
The TACS Studio
As you move around the TACS studio you will get to see so many paintings that talk everything that is related to Tanzania, painted in the authentic Tinga Tinga style. What is so special about this art is that each artist has picked up his/her own special subject and has given a lot of creativity to it. You may see one person painting only fishes while the other only butterflies. This way they create their own distinguished style and their own set of customers. Adam Omary who is a thirty three year old artist at TACS joyfully explains “ I have chosen animals as my specialty and have been painting them for years. My work does not help me earn daily bread for my family, but people have really appreciated and love what I paint. I have received bulk orders from Japan this time and will be selling each piece of mine for 20,000 Tshillings. I have always pleased the Japanese customers. I was honored to go to Japan few years ago to showcase my work and popularize this art work”
Majority of the tourists admire the beauty of Tinga Tinga paintings and are major buyers. No wonder this art form has another name ‘a tourist- oriented art’ or the ‘airport art’. The Vice Chairman continues “Many of them are touched after listening to the story of Edward and enthralled with the Tinga Tinga paintings that flawlessly and artistically narrate tales of Tanzania. These paintings have beautifully depicted several aspects of Tanzania including our history.”
Challenges and Success Story Today
Tinga Tinga art also faces other challenges besides its acclaimed popularity. Ibrahim Omary says, “Many have stolen this art in different ways. They produce their own stories of Tinga Tinga, capture pictures, print them on t-shirts or reproduce fake paintings and sell them in their own countries getting huger benefits and becoming richer than the artists here. Many are not aware that the original Tinga Tinga artists are not located in Arusha, Zanzibar, Mwenge or Moshi or any other country but only here at Oyster Bay in Dar es salaam, Tanzania. Another problem is that the locals here have failed to appreciate this art since they consider it ordinary. We lack the support of people to further Tinga Tinga in our own country in several aspects. Also, there has been such a huge demand up country and due to lack of communication we have been unable to identify our customers fully.”
TACS today has been able to bring authentic Tinga Tinga artists together and support them in promoting the authentic art of Tanzania. Chalinda who paints history and animals in plenty says “I remember going to Switzerland and raise money to promote Tinga Tinga art. We received enormous support from the Swiss and made Tinga Tinga Art Co-operative Society. Besides so many hardships, my teacher Omary Amonde who was the cousin of Edward encouraged me to continue painting. I am very grateful to him. I do not even remember how many paintings I have created…. there are just too many of them hopefully displayed in different countries. Today you can see TACS has so many people happily painting together under one banner.”
The heart of Tinga Tinga is the love that the artists and it’s admirers feel for it. They come here at Oyster Bay to which they refer to as their school. They gather every morning, shedding their sweat to paint together their own distinct styles taught from generations by their mentor Edward Said Tinga Tinga, proudly signing their names at the bottom of each masterpiece. They believe they are the fortunate bunch of a hundreds who have survived despite odds, painting the Tinga Tinga way. Ibrahim Omary explains “We hope that the co-operative becomes bigger, people respect and appreciate this art with due credit and benefit given to the artists who come here every day to paint. A painter is a skilled person, a distinguished artist and his works therefore needs recognition and credit. The paintings created by the Tinga Tinga artist are no less than that of Picaso and as such they deserve a brighter future and an excellent standard of living. We want recognition for this art at a global level so that more people get to know about Tanzania through the Tinga Tinga Pantings.”
Edward Said Tinga Tinga has made a glorious mark on the pages of Tanzania’s history, his art being one of the unmatchable, brought down to generations meaningfully. He perhaps stands as a distinguished personality who popularized Tanzania to the outsiders through his paintings and his successors follow suit. The Tinga Tinga legacy continues…
TINGA TINGA FACTS
Founder: Edward Said Tinga Tinga
Tinga Tinga Painters today: 120
Paintings available at: Tinga Tinga Arts Co-operative Society, Morogoro stores, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
Coop Timings- Monday to Sunday,
8:00 am- 6:00 pm
Products- canvas paintings, wall hangings- available in all sizes, name plates, wooden showpieces, carvings, stationary, stools, bottles and other customized products
Workshops: Learn Tinga Tinga painting (for kids and adults) on request
Export facility available
Website: www.tingatinga.org / http://www.tingatingastudio.com
*Please note- All Tinga Tinga Images are copy right of Tinga Tinga Art Co-operative Society (TACS) and are licensed by the same body.