Magazine article New African

Tingatinga: The Art of East Africa; Whether You Are in Nairobi or Mombasa, Zanzibar or Arusha, Lamu or Tanga, There Are Hundreds of Tingatinga Artists. Stephen Williams Profiles the Source of This Important Art Movement

Magazine article New African

Tingatinga: The Art of East Africa; Whether You Are in Nairobi or Mombasa, Zanzibar or Arusha, Lamu or Tanga, There Are Hundreds of Tingatinga Artists. Stephen Williams Profiles the Source of This Important Art Movement

Article excerpt

Throughout East Africa, particularly where tourists are to be found, visitors are confronted with brightly coloured paintings of birds, animals, urban and village scenes. It is an art form that, while not exactly traditional, is certainly part and parcel of contemporary East African culture. And, extraordinarily, its provenance can be traced to one artist--Edward Saidi Tingatinga.

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He was born in 1932 in a small village called Nakapanya in southern Tanzania, close to the Mozambique border. In 1957 he left his village to seek his fortune, first travelling to the Tanga district and working on the sisal plantations before trying his luck in the big city--Dar es Salaam.

He was fortunate enough to have a cousin working as a cook for a European living in the up-market suburb of Oyster Bay, north of Dar es Salaam's city centre. Tingatinga found employment in the same household as a gardener, but when their employer left Tanzania, the two cousins were obliged to move to the Msasani Mikoroshoni district.

Tingatinga, now without a job, scraped together some money to buy a bicycle and became a street vendor. Each day he would visit the main fruit and vegetable market to buy produce and then cycle to the Oyster Bay district to sell door-to-door. He also began embroidering household linens, such as tablecloths and bed sheets, and wove baskets and mats to earn a living.

It is said that during this period, he began offering his skills as a painter, decorating houses and producing wall paintings. From this activity, he managed to collect unfinished tins of paint and scraps of hardboard and in his spare time began painting animals and other scenes for his own amusement.

When, in 1970, Tingatinga married, he realised that he had to try and find another source of income. He found a job at the Muhimbili Medical Clinic as a porter and his wife took to selling fruit and vegetables, as well as his crafts and paintings, at the Oyster Bay shopping centre. Thanks to a tourist who bought one of his works and began to promote it, his paintings were soon in high demand.

Tingatinga quit his job at the clinic and took up painting full time. He could even afford to employ several young relatives to assist him. …

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