Walking down one of the lanes in Stone Town I came across a Tinga Tinga painter, painting fish in a circular pattern on his canvas. If you’re wondering why they are named so, here’s the story…
Once upon a time in Southern Tanzania, there was a man named Edward Saidi Tingatinga who came looking for work in Dar es Salaam in the 1950’s. After doing various jobs he found himself unemployed and was looking around for a way to earn money. During that time, painters from Congo used to sell their paintings in Tanzania and the local painters inspired by them made similar paintings.
So Saidi Tingatinga decided to paint pictures and sell them as well. With no background or training in the arts his paintings were simple and straight forward with the subjects being animals and people that he remembered from his home in Southern Tanzania. He used just four or five different colours and painted on wooden boards. Fortunately, Tingatinga quickly sold his early paintings after which there was no looking back. As his success grew, he employed others in his family and tribe to meet the demand for his paintings in the market. Soon the artists were able to afford bright enamel paints, and painted on canvas so tourists could take home pictures more easily. Saidi Tingatinga passed away in 1972, but by then the Tinga Tinga painting had become recognized as a truly original form of contemporary African art.
Now, there are several hundred Tinga Tinga painters in Tanzania and each I am told has a distinctive style or their personal touch. So far, I have only seen the works of the painters in Stone Town.
Today, the Tinga Tinga paintings are quintessentially Zanzibari or an African style of art. As I visit different souvenir shops, I can see that the quality of work varies and it will probably take a while before I settle on one to buy!