Edward Tingatinga is a lucky artist. Though he only enjoyed a four-year African art career, he gained enormous success that made him a renowned and wealthy man.
His African paintings are simple in style (TACS 1998), which is demonstrated clearly in the unicolor background, the singled-out animal motifs in a static pose. It would be fair to say that his major efforts were put to make the illustrated animals recognizable for his audience. Taking his classic work, Cheetah, as the an example, a side view of the cheetah makes it possible for audience to capture all its salient features at one glance, such as four long thin legs, a whip-like tail, deep chest, and spots all over its body. Meanwhile, he gives a front view of its head instead of a side one to further emphasize its facial features, such as its characteristic black tear-like streaks.
Like most self-taught artists, Tingatinga did not stop seeking for progress during his painting practice. There is a clear tendency of adding more figures, including animals as subjects and trees, flowers or artifacts such as bottles as décor. Two Peacocks on a Tree, another one of his paintings, apart from maintaining his habit of presenting the side that shows features the best, i.e. a side view of peacocks’ heads to show beaks and head ornament, he tried to include two peacock figures in one painting together with a tree as décor, which brought a scene into his painting. He also arranged these two peacocks standing in different positions, one facing the audience, one standing with its back, showing its characteristic feature, the train.
Because it fits into their conception of Africa, how it is supposed to be like. They think all the techniques we use in painting are from the Western world, they think we did not have art before colonization. If you give a brush to a European who’s not trained professionally, he would paint like this (early Tingatinga) as well.
In my understanding, what Jengo points out here is the reason why many foreigners are attracted to Tingatinga is its crudeness, a reflection of a real Africa that has not been influenced by any external invasion. Thus, it is a reasonable assumption that foreigners’ stereotype of Africa lowered their expectations of techniques, or, any kinds of sophistication, from Tingatinga, which is a just-discovered, authentic African art. Though the mainstream discourse showed an optimistic attitude toward the revival of Africa, the colonial ideology, which considered Africa as essentially incapable, was still covered inside (Shiner 1994). Thus, what this pseudo-optimism brings in are various ‘discoveries’ of the naiveté of Africa. There is another confirmable reason that contributed to foreigners’ fondness for Tingatinga. For a long time, Makonde wood sculptures were dominant in the Tanzanian art arena, and few other art forms were witnessed and recorded.
Therefore, Tingatinga entered the arena, but was not faced with any competition. Instead, his paintings catered to foreigners’ imagination of Africa on one hand, on the other hand, they fit into the national Ujamaa policy which values rural authenticity (Nyerere, 1962). Though the Tanzanian government itself put more concentration on economy reconstruction and left little virtual support to the cultural section (Jengo 1985), its subordinate institutions, such as NDC took this responsibility of promoting domestic arts, though the one who initiated, Mr. Berger, was British. NDC’s intervention gifted Tingatinga a name of ‘national art’ and gained it more foreign audience since its major mean of promotion is artwork export.
Therefore, we can conclude this narration of the initial phase of Tingatinga by saying it was majorly supported by foreigners. Though I did not apply the assertion that Edward Tingatinga was inspired by tempera paintings sold in streets, it would not be wrong to say the foreign intervention of this art came in haphazardly soon after he began to paint.
Apprenticeship Interwoven with Familyhood
Tingatinga’s first six apprentices are all from his (extended) family and were trained under the ‘watch-and-learn’ mode. This training mode, like how many other nonacademic African artists are trained, emphasizes imitation as the proper and natural path towards competence (Kasfir 1999). It is also due to the unprofessionalism of Edward Tingatinga as an instructor, and his little intention to accept apprentices at first.
Five out of his six apprentices came to him when they were jobless, which was a bit hazardous at Ujamaa time18, and started by being Edward Tingatinga’s assistances. ‘Ujamaa’ can be roughly translated into ‘familyhood’. In the most practical way, it means sharing what one have with one’s family members, and this was exactly what Edward Tingatinga did.
The intertwining of apprenticeship and familyhood was solidified by these early apprentices after Edward Tingatinga’s death. Outward exclusiveness and inward inclusiveness formed the most conspicuous feature of the Tingatinga artist community.
In terms of the ourward exclusiveness, until 1990, only people from Makua ethnic group, preferably Mlaponi clan, were qualified to learn Tingatinga. Even today, there is an invisible wall between ‘family members’ and ‘outsiders’. Apprentices from other ethnic group, must pay tuition for learning Tingatinga. As Mkura explained:
If you are from Makua group, and I am your brother, why would I charge you? I’ll just tell you to sit down and learn. But if you are from Mwera, I’ll tell you to pay, but not a big amount.
This restriction regarding ‘familyhood’ was sometimes loosened to ‘neighborhood', but it was very rare.
As for the inward inclusiveness, dozens of young family members took up Tingatinga as their temporary job and ditched it when they found a stable one, since Tingatinga had proved to be a reliable family-exclusive job provider. This evident profit-driven participation based on kinship dragged down the overall quality of Tingatinga works and fostered an unwritten reciprocal rule which contributes to Tingatinga artists’ tolerance of copying deeds. Some artists take being copied as a gesture of providing help:
They copied my work because they saw my paintings sell. Their own paintings do not sell well. They need money… if they could earn money by copying my art, it’s fine for me.
Copying becomes a hybrid of the benevolence from the ‘familyhood’ ideology and the ‘watch and-learn’ training mode, which does not suggest an absence of originality, but a slow fostering process of it. Left are paintings of a buffalo of Edward Tingating and his apprentice Simon Mpata, who ‘continued to be essentially faithful to the original style of his brother Tingatinga (after his death)’ (Goscinny 2017). There is a conspicuous similarity between two paintings, the buffalo, as the major motif, was illustrated in the same way. The only changed part is décor.
We cannot allege how Tingatinga would turn out to be if Edward Tingatinga lived longer and this imitating practice continued to exist, because a major breakaway from his original style appeared after he passed away. Without the master’s works to refer to, apprentices have to work with what they understand as ‘Tingatinga style’, and this catalyzed an innovation trend.
Apart from this passive breakaway, innovation also occurs in the below condition: I learn fast and I paint well, so the customers like to buy my works, sometimes my sales are even better than my teacher’s… He told me that our works are too similar now, so it is time for me to make some change…though I know mine has already gone beyond his.
In practice, this change does not need to be a major one, thanks to the benevolence rooted in ‘familyhood’, a small one such as changing dots to circles would get the apprentice a ‘pass’ from his teacher. Therefore, rather than criticizing Tingatinga artists as ‘copy cats’ and assert it as a negative influence brought by tourists, it is essential to understand this practice in the context of apprenticeship and familyhood.
If you ask any Tanzanian member of the intelligentsia who is Michael Angelo, Vincent van Gogh, or Pablo Picasso, chances are that they will tell you they know something about one of those artists. This is not surprising at all. After all, at least three of Picasso’s paintings have fetched over $100 million each.
The fact that Picasso was at one point influenced by African art would escape most people, particularly Africans. It is true that many of the famous European artists did not make a lot of money while they were alive. But this is not about the Picassos of the world and how much money they made.
It is about long forgotten and forsaken African artists. One particular artist from Tanzania named Edward Said Tingatinga, provides us with an opportunity to reconsider the value we place on African art and artists in general.
Edward Said Tingatinga was an artist, a pioneer, a genius, who created a new style of painting. He created a painting style that has come to bear his name: Tinga Tinga. Tinga Tinga style is said to have been influenced by the Ndonde mural art traditions where by the Ndonde people painted their homes.
Tingatinga was thirty six years old when he first picked up a brush to paint and he would do his last painting at the tender age of forty. This gifted artist left his mark on the art world within a period of just three years. Tingatinga’s paintings are sought out around the world by art collectors and sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
While many know of Tingatinga art, few know of the man behind this beautiful art. The life of Edward Said Tingatinga was cut short on May 17, 1972 at the age of 40. He was shot down by a Tanzanian police who mistook him for a fleeing robber. Tingatinga was born in 1932 in Tunduru, southern Tanzania.
He had two years of formal education. The twenty five year old Tingatinga decided to look for new opportunities elsewhere. He travelled to Tanga to work in Sisal plantations. This was difficult work. Tanzania, then Tanganyika, was a British colony and Europeans owned the plantations. Tingatinga decided to leave Tanga for Dar es Salaam sometime towards the end of 1950s. He first secured a job as a “house boy”, a servant, for a colonial official. This was a common job for many young men and women leaving rural areas to seek new opportunities in the cities.
Tingatinga later sold vegetables and fruits before finally securing a job at the Muhimbili hospital. Tingatinga started painting for the first time in 1968. He worked at Muhimbili and painted in his spare time. His paintings started getting noticed by foreigners in Dar es Salaam.
He started selling more and more paintings outside Morogoro stores in Oyster Bay area. Morogoro stores was a popular shopping place for foreigners. Eventually Tingatinga made enough money from his paintings that he could resign from his job at Muhimbili and paint full time. There is no question his unique style of painting was and remain both beautiful and creative.
Africa has produced many artistic geniuses. Unfortunately, recognition of African artists has often come from outside Africa and not within Africa itself, if there has been any recognition at all. African artists do not get the recognition they deserve from painters to musicians. We have no one else to blame but ourselves for this.
Tingatinga, like his contemporary artist George Lilanga, have not received the recognition they deserve from Tanzanians or Africans. Tingatinga died relatively poor despite the fact that he was starting to make more money towards the end of his life. At least one of Tingatinga’s paintings, Spotted Hyena, sold for $2,196 in 2010. Other paintings have fetched higher prices. George Lilanga’s paintings on the other hand, are listed for between $10,000 and $15,000.
Lilanga is said to have influenced the American graffiti artist Keith Haring. Tanzanians and Africans in general place little value in their artwork and artists. Those who were lucky enough to have met Tingatinga in the late 1960s and early 70s, were without a doubt, in the presence of artistic excellence, a Tanzanian genius.
While Tingatinga may not be well known or respected by many Africans today, there is little doubt that in time, he will get the respect and honor he deserves. He is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century! This recognition will, however, only happen when Africans, Tanzanians, start recognising and placing more value in their artwork.
TingaTinga African Art is one of the world's largest places to buy authentic African paintings for sale.
The late 1980s and beginning of 1990s witnessed a big evolution in Tingatinga African paintings. It should be remembered that most of Tingatinga African painting customers came from abroad. These customers wanted to purchase African paintings and travel with them to their home countries. The idea of using canvas rather than hardboard panels was, therefore, introduced. According to Abdallah Saidi Chilamboni (interview, 2015), one day, a customer named Denis brought a canvas from Europe and gave few Tingatinga painters to try working it. The painters found working on it easy and they worked very well. Subsequently, on another day Abdul Amonde Mkura bought a piece of light cloth and started working on it. He firstly framed it and poured some wheat porridge on it. He painted a first layer of red oxide, and then used sand paper to smooth it. He then painted the second layer of red oxide and smoothed it in the same way to get a fine surface. He lastly painted a Tingatinga composition on it. Other Tingatinga African painters liked the idea and began to do their paintings the same way. That marked the beginning of using canvas for Tingatinga painters. The artists sold more of their canvas paintings than those that were done on hardboard panels. Customers preferred that kind of painting style because they could roll and travel with them easier.
However, that idea could not be sustained any longer because customers began to complain that the African paintings were getting cracked during the winter season in Europe. The idea of using wheat porridge and red oxide layers, as the background was, therefore, not appropriate to the customers. In consequence, the Tingatinga painters decided to resort to their old style of enamel paints but this time on heavy pieces of cloth; they began painting their backgrounds using enamel colours.
Most of the latest characteristics of Tingatinga paintings are evident in Wildlife of Abdallah Chilamboni. The three figures of the lion, birds and flowers appearing as one composition reflect the Mbuga za Wanyama ideology, which insists on compositions to have several animal figures instead of a single animal figure as in the traditional Tingatinga drawings of the first generation. The colour application is finer and better mixed than the first generation painting style. The white spray-like white colour on the lions’ stomachs, feet, cheeks, and around the eyes is sharp at the edge and gradually merges into brown to reduce the use of single solid lines, which were dominant in the first generation painting style.
Likewise, the backs are painted with sharp dark brown at the edges and gradually the dark brown colour merges into light brown, again to reduce the use of single solid lines. The body parts, such as legs, fingers, noses and mouths are defined by clear solid lines, which is the backbone of Tingatinga style from its start. From the first generation of Tingatinga African paintings, lines were used instead of shading to clearly define the edges. The new Tingatinga African style seems to introduce shading though the edges on images that are still defined by solid lines. The eyes are neatly painted by a careful use of the brush to get yellow-brown corneas and pupils, brown-black irises and eye lids, and that is certainly a real colour arrangement on lion eyes. Other details such as the eyebrows can also be seen very clear and almost on their reality. The painter spent time to show the hair details with some lighted and shaded areas. The background is also a blend of various spray-like colours that merge.
When these African painters of the second generation felt that they were comfortable with their new style of painting, they began to go beyond animal subjects and attempted to paint compositions of daily life activities. The compositions that were powerful at that time included landscapes and people engaged in their daily activities such as hunting, farming, spiritual world and healing, which includes traditional doctors’ activities.
The beginning of the 2000s saw Asian countries such as Japan and China begin to purchase Tingatinga paintings in large quantity. Asians were in love with busy paintings. They were interested in seeing different kinds of figures in one composition such as cars, people, trees, and animals.
Just as it has been happening previously, painters did what their customers desired. This was the time when Tingatinga painters came up with a style of producing extremely busy compositions. These paintings were so busy in composition that an observer could barely see the background.
Maurus Michael Malikita is one of the painters whose paintings flourished during this period. Malikita has a unique painting style that differs from the rest of Tingatinga painters. During a personal interview, he said started to paint in the Tingatinga style in 1988 using the same style that all Tingatinga painters used. He was taught by Saidi Mandawa though he was not comfortable with his style. He was mostly inspired by urban life and people in their daily economic activities. A couple of years later in 1990 he tried a composition that represented the urban life and narrated a story. One of his customers liked his work and encouraged him to paint more of that kind because they were unique and different from other Tingatinga paintings. Many Tingatinga customers were attracted by his style and the market of his painting style emerged. He trained other painters such as Issa Mitole and Rashidi Say who appreciated his new style and those who wished to learn it.
The authenticity of today’s Tingatinga African painting styles is something that needs explanation. The changes that occur in Tingatinga art from the first to the second generation of Tingatinga painters should be regarded as an evolution within the style, which responds to cultural change and socio-economic demands as well as tastes of the customers or patrons. Any art needs personal and cultural values to communicate intensively. Since any culture in the world changes with time, the arts from any ethnic group also tend change with the prevailing cultural aspects in these ethnicities. The changes, however, do not render the arts to be unauthentic. Dutton (1994, p. 6) quotes Sidney Kasfir when she says, “by rendering as somehow inauthentic all later art, it fails to acknowledges the possibility of cultural change.
Souvenir and Tourist Art
A souvenir is something bought or kept to remind someone of a holiday, place, or event (Collins 2017). As basic as it is, its relation with the collectors, often tourists, has arisen a wide range of discussions in domains such as aesthetics, economy and philosophy etc (Elomba & Yun 2018; Paraskevaidis & Andriotis 2015, Graburn 1973). Meanwhile, the expansion of tourist-oriented souvenir market has also been narrowing down the common understanding of souvenirs to cheap, portable and crudely-made products (Lasusa 2007). To avoid possible misunderstandings resulting from the varied interpretations of ‘souvenir’, I must clarify that this research is based only on its most literal and basic meaning, thus, I start my argument with the birth of a souvenir, rather than its presentation.
An object that exists physically is exposed in discourses at the same time (Tilly 1990), and a souvenir is a good example by referring to its definition. Whether mass-produced or non-commercial, an object becomes souvenir to satisfy a collective touristic need, which is to build up an emotional connection with the collector and a certain destination, to substantiate the authenticity of the trip.
Referring to my previous discussion on tourist art, it is evident that tourist art is only a means of presentation of souvenirs, rather than a synonym for ‘souvenir’ in Lasusa’s (2007) discussion, or an end-point on various changing paths towards tourist art in Graburn’s model [1984(1973)]. Instead, I view souvenirization as the first step on the path towards tourist art and I present my case study on Tingatinga as follows.
The Souvenirization of Tingatinga
It is not easy for one to find an object that reflects one’s emotional link to a certain place, and it is the same for souvenir producers. As an effective response to tourists’ expectations, the unchanged, well-known and typical geographic and cultural symbols are widely applied on souvenirs. Unintentionally or intentionally, the fact that Edward Tingatinga’s major motifs are wildlife, the pride of Tanzania, qualified his works to be purchased as souvenirs even before the modifications his fellow artists later made .
Having grasped this universal need, Tingatinga artists added more overt geographical features by creating new motifs and designs. A typical example is the motif of Kilimanjaro. It was initiated by Jaffary Aussi, who had his personal exhibitions in Japanin 1987, and came back painting Kilimanjaro in the background. At around the same time, a new design called Mbuga appeared. It is a combination of animal motifs with a sky-and-savannah background, and the new Kilimanaro motif was incorporated in it soon. This design has maximized Tanzania’s geographic features. Until today, Mbuga is still one of the best-sellers of Tingatinga.
After setting up the connection between Tingatinga and tourists by modifying the content, the next concern is to expand the market, and this is where mass-production comes in and makes Tingatinga fit better into the stereotype of portable, duplicable and cheap souvenirs.
The Mass-production of Tingatinga
1) Changes led by Technique Development
Portability is one of the most important features of souvenirs, it is also one of the major reasons that tourists choose Tingatinga to bring home nowadays. However, at the initial stage of Tingatinga, transportation was a big obstacle for it to reach out to customers.
For over twenty years, Tingatinga artists had been painting on ceiling boards, which refers to a 3mm-thick compressed hardboard panel that is commonly used to cover the ceiling. Though there were complaints, and the artists themselves also suffered from the fact that the number of tourists had increased since 1985 (Salazar 2009), but each of them were only able to purchase few African paintings, the practice remained unchanged until a customer came with canvas.
After an adaption period to this new, light, cheap material, Tingatinga artists abandoned ceiling boards for good. The lightness of canvas also reduced the cost of bulk transportation to other countries, which also provides an easier access for tourists at home. As for the artists, they enjoy an increased income led by larger demand and slightly lower cost as well.
This change of the carrier also resulted in a change of the painting process and presentation of Tingatinga paintings. Several steps were added before applying background colors. Artists must nail the canvas onto frames, then apply a layer of white paint so the paint added on it would not sink in and spread uncontrollably. After drying, artists would use a razor blade to get rid of the extra caking parts to achieve a smooth and soft surface. After applying colors on the first layer, it must be dried up before painting on the next layer. The time of each drying process is about an hour, or even longer in rainy seasons. As a result, most Tingatinga artists usually paint several paintings at a time, so that they could utilize the intervals efficiently (Fig.8).
The change to canvas was followed by another wave. Around 1990, an increasing number of customers came to Tingatinga artists with objects such as plates, pencils, cloth hangers and asked them to paint on them (Fig. 9).
The challenges led by a more complex technique, higher creativity, and lower expectations of sales made most Tingatinga artists stop at the level of copying, or to word it better, the level of ‘watch-and-learn’. However, by no means should their learning ability be under estimated. The above elements are what made these exceptional artists remain distinguished, not become distinguished. The generally-adopted copying deeds chase after originality continuously thus the copied artists can either accept that his own art becomes a shared one or takes the challenge by adjusting his own style continuously.
Abdalla is an artist who pursues the ideology that he would not be caught up as long as he changes faster than the copying artists:
I don’t have a style, or you can say I paint all styles… When I see one of my paintings is selling well, I will stop painting it and turn to another one, because it has already succeeded. They can copy my work, but clients know that mine is the original one… clients do not only like animals. They like differences as well, and I provide them with the differences.
We are grateful to the author Y.Chen for her dissertation on the above.
Adapted from a dissertation written by Y. Chen entitled: The Dialogue between the Producers and Clients
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