Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society

Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society

The Tinga Tinga Arts Co-operative Society in Oyster Bay, an affluent neighborhood of Dar Es Salaam is a serious but friendly place. African artists work diligently creating unique, colorful African paintings and talk to visitors about their work and ambitions.

From a purely technical standpoint, Tingatinga African art can be defined as painting on Masonite using bicycle paint. These African paintings can be as small as ceramic tiles, while the biggest African paintings are hanging above thousands of family room sofas.

Market limitations have prevented African artists from working in larger formats. A majority of the art buyers have been foreigners wanting to transport the images out of the country by airplane. From that perspective, Tingatinga is a genuine form of "airport art" - cultural African art from developing nations that has been adapted to the special requirements of distance travelers, including size. The choice of motifs in Tingatinga art has often been adapted to the purchaser's expectations of what should be included in an African painting. 

The heart of Tingatinga African art is centered on coastal east African design, where the decorative vines and patterns of the Swahili culture cover delineated spaces that are never allowed to remain completely empty. It is reminiscent of the beautiful, archetypal medieval wooden doors, found in the trading cities along the east African coast, as well as the many modern printed cotton fabrics in the form of kitenges and kangas. The flat, lush surface decorations can even be found in revolutionary illustrations from early 1970s political pamphlets, which were produced in Tanzania by the exiled Mozambican freedom fighters.

The life story of the founder of Tingatinga, Edward Saidi Tingatinga (1932 – 1972) reads like a fairy tale – he painted under Baobab tree in Dar es Salaam. But the fairy tale has a tragic ending. He was accidentally killed by a policeman who mistook him for a fugitive.

The African Contemporary Art Gallery tells the story of his life noting that unlike most Tanzanian artists, who had specialized in ebony, E.S. Tingatinga was a painter. He had no formal art training, and did not go to art school. His painting resulted simply from his desire to express himself through the media of hardboard, paint and brush. His work was straightforward; its message transmitted to everyone because he focused on universal images.

Tingatinga painted animals, birds, people, and a score of other things. He was born of peasant parents in 1932 in the remote village of Mindu, in southern Tanzania's Tunduru District on the Mozambique border. He received a rudimentary education during two years spent attending the local school.

The rest of his early years were spent helping in the general duties of the home, learning various crafts, and most importantly, cultivating the land which is the major means of subsistence. In 1955 E.S. Tingatinga decided to try his luck and travelled to Dar Es Salaam to look for a job. He managed to find work as a domestic servant in a colonial civil servant's home, where he remained until 1961 when Tanzanian independence arrived and his employer left. During those six years Tingatinga had occasion to watch the work of the government painters who periodically came to paint the government house in which he stayed; each time he marvelled at the ceiling boards, the bright colors and the graceful brush strokes of the painters.

He longed to try his hand at the job, but his regular duties left no time for it. When his job ended in 1961 he became desperate. He found work here and there, but it was never permanent, and his life became increasingly difficult.

Tanzania's independence brought in painters, mainly from Zaire (formerly Republic of the Congo) who produced inexpensive pictures for sale along the city's main streets.

This new turn of events sparked Tingatinga's former urge to paint; he managed to get some household paint and a brush from a friend, located a piece of crude ceiling board and created his first picture. He displayed it outside the Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, where it eventually fetched him some 10 shillings! That was the beginning of his new career.

He bought more material and concentrated on painting as much as possible. Artist friends advised him on supplies, and he soon changed from household paint to a better type. Subsequently, Tingatinga found a permanent job with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare at Muhimbili Hospital where he worked as a nursing assistant while devoting as much time as possible to his art. When Tingatinga was not at the hospital, he could be found painting at his home, a room in one of the poorer houses in Msasani, a Dar es Salaam suburb, where he lived with his wife and two children.

Just before he died, the National Arts Council, a subsidiary of the National Development Corporation, decided to exhibit his works in their display rooms in the city center and again later in their pavilion at the 1971 Saba Saba International Trade Fair.

This helped him greatly as he gained a contract with the National Arts Council, who provided him with material and handled the sale of his paintings. Tingatinga felt that he was far from being a polished artist. Although, his works were still somewhat artistically crude, he nonetheless said, "All the same they are good; this is why people buy them. They must somehow be meaningful."

The tradition of Tingatinga’s work is being preserved and nurtured by his family who registered the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society (TACS) which produces and sells popular art products under the trade name Tinga Tinga and has been licensing its intellectual property worldwide for more than 20 years. The decision to form a Cooperative was not straightforward.

After Edward Saidi Tingatinga’s tragic death he left behind only six students: Simon Mpata, January Linda, Adeus Matambwe, Kasper Henric Tedo, Abdallah Ajaba and Omari Amonde. As the co-operative’s website notes the artists were disorganised until Mr. Salum Mussa (Mzee Lumumba) came up with the idea to form a Tinga Tinga Partnership. Among those who attended the first meeting were Omary Amonde, Hashim Mruta, Saidi Chilamboni and others.

Under the umbrella of the Tinga Tinga Partnership the work of the artists expanded and in 1990 it was time to form a stronger organization - The Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society. The Tinga Tinga community in Tanzania consists of around 700 painters who paint every day on the streets of Dar es Salam, near the beaches of Zanzibar or under the highest African mountain Kilimanjaro. A few painters have gone to Kenya, and South Africa while others have reached Europe, Japan and America. They are linked together either by family or friendship.

The Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society with almost 100 artists is in the center of the Tinga Tinga movement and one of Oyster Bay’s main attractions. There have been problems with breaches of copyright due to the universal appeal of the exuberant paintings which have acquainted the world with African art.

According to Shiraishi and Yamamoto (1992), Gosciny (2001), Nahimiani (2008), Thorup and Sam (2010), the Tingatinga Art of Tanzania emerged in the late 1960s following the invention of paintings made of bright colours on square Masonite boards by Edward Saidi Tingatinga, who is simply acknowledged as Tingatinga. This painting genre was named after its founder. Since the 1970s, Tingatinga art has been produced by several other artists apprenticed by Edward Tingatinga himself. Gosciny (2004) argues that by 1970, Tingatinga had begun to train his first five students, namely, Mpata, Tedo, Ajaba, Linda, and Adeusi. This first generation of Tingatinga students trained a second generation of painters and soon the tight grip of Tingatinga’s closed circle opened up. When Edward Saidi Tingatinga died in a fatal shooting accident in 1972, his group of about 20 painters was considered to be a school by some Western writers such as Hatz (1996) and Schaedler (1998). In an attempt to save the business contract which, it had signed with Edward Saidi Tingatinga in 1971, the National Art of Tanzania (NAT) or HANDICO helped Tingatinga apprentices and family members form and register the Tingatinga Art Co-operative Society (TACS) between 1973 and 1974. TACS still administers Tingatinga arts business at its Msasani-Morogoro store’s premises in Dar es Salaam.

The early Tingatinga paintings depicted monochromatic backgrounds behind boldly-painted lone wild animals, particularly lions, hippos, elephants and buffalos. A closer look at the paintings reveals naïve qualities of the artist in organising the form and content of his composition, hence producing an unsophisticated impression in all his artworks. The general atypical stylistic characteristics of Tingatinga art is its commodified quality that has won it the reputation as the most popular tourist art in East Africa.

Despite having a very small base of local audience and buyers, Tingatinga art has won a remarkable foreign art lovers support from all over the world (Jengo 1985). Since the 1970s when it spread, its reception as a ‘contemporary’ visual art genre in Tanzania is still ambivalent among local scholars as seen in the following extract:

The Tingatinga group of artists founded by the late Edward Tingatinga in the early 1970s enjoyed the popularity among oversees art buyers. The naivety of their painting style, bright colours and symbolism were seen as representing the style of art from ‘a dying culture’. As might be expected, HANDICO promoted Tingatinga art commercially until it flooded the art market in the late 1970s (Jengo 1985:123).

The Tingatinga art genre had very little to do with the Ujamaa arts in its conceptual sense, but in its later modes of productions and marketing aspects. It emerged as a hobby, and quickly expanded into a family enterprise catering for wide tourist art markets in the entire East African region. A few years after its invention, Tingatinga art became a Western art collectors’ yardstick and obsession in their quest to find an authentic art from Tanzania. Some writers still believe that only artists without Western art educational influence could produce ‘authentic’ art in Tanzania. Local art educators and scholars such as Wembah-Rashid (1979) and Jengo (1985) are reluctant to categorise Tingatinga paintings as ‘folk art’ and more of craftwork apart from the mainstream visual arts, which are normally appreciated as products of unique genius refined through formal training or apprenticeship. In fact, for many years, Elias Jengo, through occasional papers155 and speeches, has been a fervent critic of Western writers who have tirelessly credited the Tingatinga paintings as the original manifestations of Tanzanian contemporary art.

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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