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The African Painting Revolution in Tanzania

The African Painting Revolution in Tanzania

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.

african painting of abdallah chilamboni

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.

edward tingatinga african paintings

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.



Size Guide

Centimeters (CM)

Inches (IN)

50CM x 40CM

19 11/16 in X 15 3/4 in

50CM x 50CM

19 11/16 in X 19 11/16 in

60CM x 60CM

23 5/8 in X 23 5/8 in

70CM x 50CM

27 9/16 in X 19 11/16 in

80CM x 60CM

31 1/2 in X 23 5/8 in

100CM x 80CM

39 3/8 in X 31 1/2 in

140CM x 110CM

55 1/8 in X 43 5/16 in