tradition and tourism:
there was a man called Edward S. Tingatinga. He was born in TANZANIA. During the 1960s he established an art form that became associated
with his new homeland, Tanzania. Today, "Tingatinga" is the Tanzanian term
for this form of art, known mostly in Tanzania, Kenya, Norway, Sweden,
Finland, and Denmark.
Bicycle paint painting by
Edward S. Tingatinga. Copyright © Jesper Kirknæs, P.O. Box 128,
Over the years,
knowledge about Tingatinga has spread to other parts of Africa and Europe,
as well as to other English-speaking parts of the world. 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, Tingatinga art can be defined as painting on
masonite using bicycle paint. The paintings can be as small as ceramic
tiles, while the biggest paintings are no doubt hanging above thousands of
family room sofas. 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 is centered 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. It is
reminiscent of the beautiful, archetypal medieval wooden doors, found in
the trading cities along the east African coast, as well as the many
modern printed cotton fabrics in the form of kitenges and kangas. The
flat, lush surface decorations can even be found in revolutionary
illustrations from early 1970s political pamphlets, which were produced in
Tanzania by the exiled Mozambican freedom fighters.
A follower, Chimwanda, is among those who know how to fill the masonite surface
with decorative forms. Copyright
© Jesper Kirknæs, P.O. Box 128, DK-Frederiksberg, Denmark.
designs are also used by many of today's younger artists and handicrafts
people, in attempts to identify their own domestic artistic paths in
painting, sculpture, carpentry, embroidery etc. Makonde sculptors from
Mozambique and Tanzania often show this desire. Horror vacui
(fear of emptiness) is also found among several of southern and eastern
Africa's established artists: Malangatana from Mozambique, Helen Sebidi
from South Africa, painter Mankeu and sketcher and painter Idassé from
should also be mentioned among the modern artists who have adapted the
decorative designs of Swahili culture, but with strong and meaningful
motifs. Linoleum cuts designed during the 60s, 70s and 80s at the
missionary and art schools in South Africa and Tanzania (those of the now
deceased and independent-minded John Muafangejo, for example) are related
to the designs in form, but do not clearly trace back to an East African
pattern tradition. If such links could be proven, they were no doubt
created with the encouragement of Nordic missionaries, artists active in
Africa and development assistance workers, all of whom were looking for
viable concepts for the "true African image".
there is a conflict in Tingatinga art, especially when one looks at how it
has been developed by the followers of the artist who gave it his name.
There is a collision or an encounter of two or three of the world's
leading art idioms. It was Tingatinga's successors who developed the
decorative vein of Tingatinga painting, while the artist himself painted
"the big five" and other motifs that were not at all based on
the decorative art idiom. "The big five" was a central theme of
art and handicrafts from southern and eastern Africa, symbolizing the
typical, large animals on the continent: elephant, lion, giraffe,
hippopotamus and antelope (or ox). It is closer to being a single-motif
art form, a narrative image with a main subject and contributing
attributes and symbols. This sort of imagery is found both in the
three-dimensional art (sculpture, masks) of other African cultures, as
well as in the foundations of Western European art idioms.
Peacock by Bushiri.
Copyright © Jesper Kirknæs, P.O. Box 128, DK-Frederiksberg, Denmark.
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 anyway. 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 old Nordic textile design - or, rather, a
selection out of an artistically rendered, beautiful Arabic Koran verse.
Many Tingatinga paintings illustrate both the origins of and the meeting
between east and west in eastern Africa.
paint in vibrant colors
Bicycle paint is a
good medium to work in when making clear, vibrant colored paintings that
contain sharp contrasts, and still it allows for the ability to work with
surfaces of harmonizing shades. Since the paint does not dry very fast, it
requires that the artist first paints the background, letting the paint
dry before working on the actual motif. This technique of letting the
background dry, as well as the thick consistency of bicycle paint, are
what make Tingatinga paintings so easy to interpret, since they display
contours and clearly separated color surfaces.
assistance policies of the Scandinavian countries have, generally
speaking, both invited and provided the economic prerequisites for
cultural endeavors, to a larger degree than aid to Africa from other
countries. Tanzania and Mozambique are countries that have been of special
interest to the Nordic countries, while the U.S. and the U.K. have
remained somewhat outside of the independence movements of these nations,
as well as their later socialistic development.
have been supported by the purchase of individual works and whole
collections, as well as through the printing and sales of postcards. There
have also been several exhibitions arranged in Scandinavia. During the
1980s the history of modern African art was written in English, e.g. the
language that today is the prerequisite for any international spread of
knowledge. Familiarity with art movements such as Tingatinga, Ujamaa
sculptures (which, like Tingatinga painting, is also based in Dar-es-Salaam), Rorke's Drift in South Africa, the Poto-poto
school in West Africa, and many other modern artistic developments, has
been spread successively through the interaction between active artists
and cultural workers from Europe and Africa. The Anglo-Saxon academic
world has not shown any great interest in them, nor are they written about
very often in English-language cultural publications. The explanation is
simple. There is not enough of a connection to British colonial history.
Historical writers have focused their interests either on movements where
the initiative was either British or British-colonial, or on
"non-colonial" Africa - the "inner" worlds of
"foreign" cultures such as fetishism and shamanism.
and ideological inquiries
Art and handicrafts
need to be salable, more or less on their own strengths. Entrepreneurial
African artists have, together with Scandinavian artists and cultural
workers from development assistance organizations, tried to find those
sorts of products which the market will accept. The myth that neither
colonial culture nor post-colonial development assistance operations can
influence "free" Africans, is a philosophical problem which
cannot be refuted enough. This very supposition has pushed forward the
meeting between African culture and the West by more than a thousand
years, to a period that is entirely distant from the truth. A desire to
identify a unique African culture, especially in conjunction with various
independence movements, has unfortunately frequently made a case based on
differences between Africa and the West, rather than viewing history from
a longer and broader perspective.
The most reasonable
conclusion one can reach about Tingatinga art, is to describe the meeting
between Scandinavians and Tingatinga and his colleagues as historic and as
having influences on both Western and African cultures. It is an historic
meeting between initiative rich, creative people in Dar-es-Salaam who earn
their livelihoods by selling handmade artistic products, and Scandinavian
cultural assistance. Through their sale, however, the paintings have
spread far beyond that bilateral contact.
and his circle
In the spring of
1996, Mia Terént wrote an art history paper entitled Edward S.
Tingatinga and his art. According to Mia Terénts excellent introductory
text, Edward S. Tingatinga grew up in a farm family in Mozambique and
made his way to Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania as a 16 year old in 1955. He
made his first paintings in 1965 or 1967. His discovery that he could
derive an income from this, led to several of his relatives to also begin
painting on masonite, an easily available material, with bicycle paint.
The paintings were
sold outside of a convenience store in Oysterbay, a white residential area
in Dar-Es-Salaam. Cooperation amongst the artists meant that some of them
began to specialize in backgrounds while others focused on the main
motifs. This also led to some of them becoming leading names within the
established Tingatinga art form. According to Meret Teisen, one of Mia
Terént's sources, it was through a Scandinavian initiative that
Tingatinga was able to put his work on display at the national museum in
the capital, and which is considered to have been the first domestic
exhibition at the museum, as well as the first one to incorporate
autodidacts (self-taught artists).
Among Edward S. Tingatinga's successors, his half brother Seymond Mpata should be
mentioned. In the beginning of his career, he painted tourist-friendly
landscape motifs such as "Kilimanjaro" with its snow-capped
peak, landscapes with exotic animals, etc. (His stylistic tendencies
towards surface embellishment were developed later.) A cousin to Edward's
wife, January Linda, was instrumental to his establishment in the market
at an early stage, and she was also a painter herself. Cousins Alcis
Amonde and Kasper Henrik Tedo joined the operation as did nephew Abdallah
Ajaba. Edward Tingatinga lost his life in 1972 when he entered a
restricted area near a harbor and chose to run when ordered to stop. He
was shot to death.
But Tingatinga art
lives on. Masonite boards painted with bicycle paint can still be found in
well-stocked "curio shops", shopping centers and tourist shops
in eastern and southern Africa, as well as in solidarity shops located
throughout Western Europe. Export of Tingatinga paintings from Tanzania to
Kenya's capital, Nairobi, and other tourist centers, seems to be lively.
The term Tingatinga
has been broadened and is now used to describe many different types of
colorful paintings. The term is used to provide artistic legitimacy, even
if the origins of the artwork are something other than from Tingatinga and
his immediate circle.
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