The Tingatinga African Painting Style

The Tingatinga African Painting Style

April 09, 2023

Tingatinga is often mistakenly thought of as just a style of drawing, but it is actually the name of the artist who invented it, Edward Saidi Tingatinga. From 1968 to 1972, Tingatinga would sit in the shade of his small hut in Msasani, Tanzania, and draw figures he remembered from his childhood in Mindu, near the village of Nakapanya where he was born and raised. Despite having no formal education or training in painting, Tingatinga saw the opportunity to sell his pictures on the street, just like other artists. He would buy some color and 3mm-thick compressed hardboard panels commonly used for ceiling covers from the nearest shop to create his art, as mentioned in the recently published book "A Concise Study on Contemporary Art in Tanzania.

Tanzania's renowned painting style originated in the 1960s under the artistic vision of Edward Saidi Tingatinga, after whom it is named. Born in 1932 in the remote Tunduru district of southern Tanzania, Tingatinga had limited formal education, with only four years of primary schooling. In the 1950s, he moved to Tanga and then Dar es Salaam, where he worked as a domestic help for a British civil servant. It was during his time in Dar es Salaam that Tingatinga discovered his passion for art, first as a member of a musical group and later as a self-taught painter, creating vibrant and imaginative animal paintings on small shingles.

Tingatinga's wife sold his paintings near Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, and his unique style quickly gained popularity among European tourists. As his success grew, Tingatinga began to attract followers, with relatives and others learning to imitate his artistic approach.

Tragically, Tingatinga was mistaken for a fleeing thief and fatally shot by the police in 1972. After his death, his students came together and formed the Tingatinga Partnership, later renamed the Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society in 1990. This cooperative, currently consisting of around 50 members (including two women), is still based near Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, where Tingatinga's original works were sold. In recent years, the cooperative has received significant support, including a new building, from Helvetas (the Swiss Association for International Cooperation).

Traditional Tingatinga paintings are composed in a square format, and generally feature colourful animal motifs against a monochrome background. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the style is its use of undiluted and often unmixed enamel and high-gloss paints which give Tingatinga paintings their characteristic glossy appearance.

Edward employed low cost materials such as masonite and bicycle paint and attracted the attention of tourists for their colorful, both naïve and surrealistic style. When Tingatinga died in 1972, his style was so popular that it had started a wide movement of imitators and followers, sometimes informally referred to as the "Tingatinga school".

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.

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.

It was an ordinary yet a little rainy Wednesday night in May 1972 in Dar es Salaam as the police was controlling car-drivers for their licenses, standing at the clock-tower roundabout, towards Samora Avenue – which was back in 1972 known as Independence Avenue, when things changed.

That night seemed a little different; one driver who was asked to stop panicked and drove around the policeman, almost hit the police patrol car and sped away. The policemen first fired a warning pistol shot into the air and then, as the car still did not stop, aimed at the tires. Stray bullets killed one of the occupants and slightly injured another. The third man was not harmed. The dead man, 40 years of age, slight beard on his chin, had been been a people person. The had police accidentally shot Tingatinga, whose still very young career as an artist and leading figure in the Tingatinga-movement came to an abrupt end.
Because of his short artistic life, Tingatinga left only a relatively small number of paintings, which are sought-after by collectors.

The first generation of artists from the Tingatinga school basically reproduced the works of the school's founder. In the 1990s new trends emerged within the Tingatinga style, in response to the transformations that the Tanzanian society was undergoing after independence. New subjects related to the new urban and multi-ethnic society of Dar es Salaam (e.g., crowded and busy streets and squares) were introduced, together with occasional technical novelties (such as the use of perspective). One of the most well known second-generation Tingatinga painters is Edward Tingatinga's brother-in-law, Simon Mpata.

Today, people buy Tingatinga African paintings because they are colorful, vibrant and carry a very high level of detail. They were traditionally made on masonite, using several layers of bicycle paint, which makes for a brilliant and highly saturated colors. Many elements of the style are related to requirements of the tourist-oriented market; for example, the paintings are usually small so they can be easily transported, and subjects are intended to appeal to the Europeans and Americans (e.g., the big five and other wild fauna).

In this sense, Tingatinga African paintings can be considered a form of “airport art”. The paintings themselves can be described as both naïve and caricatural, and humor and sarcasm are often explicit.

The African paintings which are produced on the touristic spots in Tanzania are derived from the indigenous mural paintings. Even Edward TingaTinga, the founder of the contemporary TingaTinga African paintings, used to decorate the huts with the indigenous paintings. But in the city, he used the enamel colors instead of soil. 

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a significant transformation in Tingatinga paintings, as most of the customers were from overseas and wanted to take the paintings back to their home countries. To accommodate this demand, the idea of using canvas instead of hardboard panels was introduced. A customer named Denis brought a canvas from Europe for Tingatinga painters to try, and they found it easy to work with and produced excellent results. Inspired by this, Abdul Amonde Mkura bought a piece of light cloth, framed it, and applied a layer of wheat porridge and red oxide to create a smooth surface. He then painted a Tingatinga composition on it. Other painters liked the idea and began using canvas in the same way, which became popular with customers due to its portability. However, this method proved to be problematic as the paintings would crack during the winter season in Europe. As a result, the Tingatinga painters returned to using enamel paints on heavy pieces of cloth for the background, reverting to their old style.

Tingatinga African paintings are known for their vibrant colors, bold shapes, and intricate designs. These paintings are a unique form of art that originated in Tanzania in the mid-20th century. The Tingatinga painting style has become increasingly popular over the years, and is now recognized as a distinct African art form.

The process of making Tingatinga paintings is intricate and involves several steps. The first step is to prepare the canvas or surface that the painting will be created on. This surface is typically made of a lightweight material like wood or cardboard, which is then coated with several layers of white or light-colored paint.

Once the canvas is prepared, the artist will sketch out their design using a pencil or charcoal. The design is then outlined using black paint, which forms the basis of the painting. The artist will then begin to add color, starting with the background and then moving on to the foreground.

One of the most unique aspects of Tingatinga paintings is the use of bright, bold colors. These colors are often applied in layers, with each layer allowing the previous layer to show through. This technique gives Tingatinga paintings their characteristic depth and texture.

The colors used in Tingatinga paintings are typically made from natural pigments, which are mixed with water to create a paintable consistency. These pigments are often sourced locally, and may include materials like charcoal, clay, or even crushed insects.

Another important aspect of Tingatinga painting is the use of negative space. This refers to the areas of the painting that are left blank, allowing the viewer's eye to focus on the areas that are painted. Negative space is an important part of Tingatinga paintings, as it helps to create a sense of balance and harmony within the composition.

In addition to the use of bold colors and negative space, Tingatinga paintings are also known for their intricate designs. These designs often feature geometric shapes and patterns, as well as depictions of local wildlife and landscapes. The designs are created using a variety of techniques, including layering, stippling, and shading.

Overall, the process of creating a Tingatinga painting is a complex and multi-step process that requires skill, patience, and attention to detail. From the preparation of the canvas to the application of color and design, every step of the process is carefully considered to create a unique and vibrant work of art. With their bold colors, intricate designs, and unique style, Tingatinga paintings are a true testament to the creativity and ingenuity of African artists.

Tingatinga African paintings are not only visually stunning, but they also hold significant cultural value. The paintings often depict scenes from everyday life in Tanzania, such as people farming, dancing, or interacting with wildlife. These images serve as a way to preserve and celebrate the culture and traditions of the local communities.

The Tingatinga painting style was founded by Edward Said Tingatinga in the 1960s. Tingatinga was a self-taught artist who developed his unique style by experimenting with different materials and techniques. He passed away in 1972, but his legacy lives on through the work of other Tingatinga artists who continue to create paintings in his style.

Today, Tingatinga paintings are highly sought after by collectors and art enthusiasts around the world. The paintings are sold in galleries and markets throughout Tanzania, and are also available for purchase online. The popularity of Tingatinga paintings has helped to raise the profile of African art, and has contributed to the growth of the African art market.

Tingatinga African paintings are a unique and valuable form of art that showcases the creativity and ingenuity of African artists. The process of creating these paintings involves several steps, including canvas preparation, sketching, outlining, coloring, and designing. The use of bold colors, negative space, and intricate designs make Tingatinga paintings visually stunning, while the depictions of everyday life in Tanzania serve to preserve and celebrate the culture and traditions of local communities. The Tingatinga painting style is a testament to the enduring legacy of Edward Said Tingatinga, and has contributed to the growth of the African art market.

The Tingatinga painting style is not only a visual representation of Tanzanian culture, but it also carries a rich history and social significance. The movement was founded during a time of social and political unrest in Tanzania, as the country was struggling to establish its own identity after gaining independence from colonial rule.

Edward Said Tingatinga was a pioneer in this movement, and his work reflected the local customs and traditions of the country. The vibrant colors, bold shapes, and intricate designs that are characteristic of Tingatinga paintings reflect the vibrant spirit and resilience of the Tanzanian people.

Tingatinga artists have continued to evolve the style, incorporating new techniques and materials to create innovative and visually striking works of art. Many artists have expanded on the original designs, incorporating elements of contemporary culture and global trends into their paintings.

Despite the popularity of Tingatinga paintings, the artists who create them often face economic challenges. Many Tingatinga artists come from low-income backgrounds, and struggle to make a living from their art. In recent years, however, efforts have been made to support these artists and promote their work.

In conclusion, Tingatinga African paintings are not just beautiful works of art, but also a cultural and social movement that reflects the vibrant spirit of the Tanzanian people. The movement has grown and evolved over time, reflecting both the country's history and contemporary culture. While Tingatinga artists face economic challenges, efforts to support and promote the style have emerged in recent years. As a result, Tingatinga paintings continue to captivate audiences around the world, and serve as a testament to the enduring creativity and resilience of African artists.

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