Updated: Apr 5
If you have never heard of Tinga Tinga, you might think it's a beautiful province somewhere in Southeast Asia or a delicious fruit from India, but it’s neither of the two. Try bicycle paint—extremely thick, slow to dry, cheap, and available; it proved just to be the right medium for working on Masonite, canvas of choice for Tanzanian artists used for Tinga Tinga art.
Tinga Tinga paintings can be as small as ceramic tiles, while the biggest paintings are no doubt hanging above thousands of family room sofas. The Tinga Tinga name derived from Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga, the father of Tinga Tinga art form.
E.S. TINGATINGA - THE FATHER OF A NEW ART FORM
The life story of the founding father, Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga
(1932 – 1972), born in Mozambique but moved to Tanzania at a young age where he remained and made his life’s work in Tanzania until his unfortunate death. In 1972, in the midst of a growing artistic career, Tingatinga was shot and killed by the police in an odd case of mistaken identity. Tingatinga had little opportunity for artistic training or academic pursuits. Growing up in a farm family, he was too concerned with survival, doing whatever jobs came his way to help his family and himself escape poverty.
Talented nonetheless —he had the artistic chops without the formal training. Living in East Africa, a region of rich artistic history (music, poetry, sculpture, dance), Tingatinga drifted toward creative works. First music, then embroidery, weaving, and unique house painting —a wrapped house, which forced everyone to circle to the house to get the full experience.
With Tingatinga’s international notoriety, it helped the development of the artist community, whether second and or today’s generations to embrace an art form that was outside of the norm of eastern Africa. After a period of time, Tingatinga started living a fairy tale life painting everyday under a Baobab tree in a village called Oyster Bay outside of the capital, Dar es Salaam, where he developed this painting style.
Tingatinga chose vibrant colors and abstract images over naturalistic images. The style is described as naïve, caricatural, and humorous. Many of the colors are a representation of the Ngapa region of Dar Es Salaam Tanzania, with soil types that are red, yellow, and brown, which is depicted in the Tinga Tinga style.
Tinga Tinga art form is no different than traditional abstract African art which is depicted in masks, wood, stone and other carvings. Many are reliant on rich dramatic colors, which was extremely influential in the development of modern art, inspiring such European masters as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Today, it has inspired a generation of African-American artists such as Charles Bibbs and Albert Fennell.
TINGA TINGA COMMUNITY:
The heart of Tinga Tinga art is centered around coastal East African design of the decorative images of the Swahili culture. After Tingatinga’s untimely death, other fellow artists in Dar Es Salaam and family members formed the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society (TAC) in his honor. The imagery of the Tinga Tinga painting style had grown, evolved, and spread to other Tanzania communities; such as Zanzibar and neighboring country, Kenya.
Zanzibar is an incredibly beautiful coastal town on the Indian Ocean, and a short distance from Dar Es Salaam, which made it very easy to bring Tingatinga’s style to Zanzibar to encourage the next generation of Artists. Zanzibar has a strong artist community and market, but has stayed safe with predictable art forms established by Tingatinga. The works today, and over the past several years, have shown a change in creativity, form, style, medium, and subject matter, which was a major departure for Zanzibar. Kenya has been a part of the African art fabric for decades, but many of the artists owe a debt to Tingatinga’s genius in helping Kenya to transform its subject matter and art scene. Kenya is clearly the economic center of East Africa, however Tanzania can lay claim to the Tinga Tinga art legacy brought forward by Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga.
Inside of the artist community, Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative has roughly 150 artists in the cooperative. Many of the artists that study and train in the cooperative truly owe a lot to the father of the Tinga Tinga art form and many were not even born when Europe brought Tanzania to the world art stage, starting in the 1980’s through the 2000’s.
The Tinga Tinga art form grew so rapidly and spread throughout Europe with exhibitions happening in Germany, Switzerland, UK, France, and many other countries. The TAC is a true family in every sense of the word. Many people come to the TAC after their early education with no formal art training and are taught the basics of the Tinga Tinga art form. There are more layers to the cooperative besides the training ground for older and young artists, the community supports a football (soccer) team to help the youth that may not aspire to be an artist, but have their dreams and desire set on something other than art. In regard to the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative it is truly a fact when it is stated, “It takes a village.”
The Tinga Tinga genre is a particular artform unlike anywhere in Africa, or the world. Tanzanian art in all mediums is marvelously eclectic, capturing the heart and soul of an animal or object through a “contemporary ecstatic imagery” and this is all due to E.S. Tingatinga, which has span generations - training, apprenticeship, and the keen knowledge and respect of the Tinga Tinga tradition.
In my young adult years, I was very fortunate to visit Tanzania on multiple occasions, it was humbling being around such friendly, inviting, and engaging people, which is the opposite of what you hear on TV or social media –mainly because that stuff doesn’t sell. So, take some time away from the infeed of social media and go ahead and, “Lean In” and read a little bit about Africa, “The Motherland.” Treat yourself and share with your family and friends.
“We are Africans not because we were born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us.”
Quoted by: Unknown