Facts about Tinga Tinga African Art

Facts about Tinga Tinga African Art

Tingatinga is a painting style that developed in the second half of the 20th century in the Oyster Bay area in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and later spread to most East Africa. Tingatinga paintings are one of the most widely represented forms of tourist-oriented art in Tanzania, Kenya and neighboring countries. The genre is named after its founder, Tanzanian painter Edward Said Tingatinga.

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

The Ngapa region is rich in different kinds of soils. The main types of soils are red, yellow and brown. There is also a black soil but since the charcoal is used instead, this type of soil isn't often utilized. The charcoal is sometimes substituted by the coal found in used batteries.

The white color is made from the ash. On isolated occasions, the use of plant pigments were also observed but still no research was done on the subject.

The Tinga Tinga art is so common in East Africa that it does not matter whether you are in Nairobi, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Arusha, Lamu or Tanga, there are hundreds of Tinga artistic expressions.

Edward Tingatinga began painting around 1968 in Tanzania (Dar es Salaam). He 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”.

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.

Because of his short artistic life, Tingatinga left only a relatively small number of paintings, which are sought-after by collectors. Today it is known that fakes were produced from all famous Tingatinga paintings like The lion, Peacock on the Baobab Tree, Antelope, Leopard, Buffalo, or Monkey.

It is controversial whether Tingatinga’s style is completely original or a derivative of traditional art forms of East Africa. In his seminal paper Tingatinga and His Followers, Swedish art critic Berit Sahlström claimed that Tingatinga was of Mozambican origin and thus suggested that his style might have connections with modern Mozambican art. The claim that Tingatinga was of Mozambican descent is nevertheless rejected by most scholars and by the Tingatinga Society. Art trader Yves Goscinny suggested that Edward Tingatinga might have been influenced by Congolese paintings that were sold in Dar es Salaam at his times. The source of this claim could be some articles by Merit Teisen, where she also claims that Tingatinga decorated two house walls for payment before he started painting on masonite boards.

The claim by Teisen about Tingatinga decorating house walls might also be interpreted as a clue of another origin of Tingatinga’s art, namely the traditional hut wall decorations of Makua and Makonde people. These paintings were first witnessed by Karl Heule in 1906 and described in his book Negerleben in Deutsch-Ost Afrika. Also ethnologist Jesper Kirknaes and Japanese art curator Kenji Shiraishi, as well as modern travellers, have seen and documented these paintings in several locations of southern Tanzania, including Ngapa, a village where many relatives of Tingatinga’s father still live today.

Jesper Kirknaes also documented those painting being done in Dar es Salaam by Makua and Makonde migrants. Shiraishi is one of the scholars who most firmly supported the theory that Tingatinga’s art is connected to traditional Makua wall paintings. Among other considerations, Shiraishi observed that it is unlikely that a style emerged and spread so quickly over most East Africa without any connection to traditional art. He claimed that his studies provided evidence for this claim.

In 2010 Hanne Thorup interviewed Tingatinga student Omari Amonde, who confirmed that Tingatinga used to paint on hut walls as a young boy (around 12 years old).

Further elaborating on the Makua painting hypothesis, Shiraishi also suggested a connection between hut walls painting and traditional rock paintings, an art form that in Africa has continued past stone age to at least the 19th century. Based on this connection, Shiraishi concludes that Tingatinga art might be seen as the “longest artist trend ever”.

The Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society
After Tingatinga’s death, his direct 6 followers Ajaba Abdallah Mtalia, Adeusi Mandu, January Linda, Casper Tedo, Simon Mpata, and Omari Amonde tried to organize themselves. Relatives of Tingatinga also joined this group, which would be later called the “Tingatinga (or Tinga Tinga) Partnership”. Not all of Tingatinga followers agreed to be in the partnership; some created a new group at Slipway. In 1990, the Tingatinga Partnership constituted itself into a society, renamed to Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society (TACS). While the TACS is usually recognized as the most authoritative representative of the Tingatinga heritage, only a small fraction of Tingatinga artists are directly linked to this society.

Tingatinga and George Lilanga
Although the internationally acclaimed Tanzanian artist George Lilanga was not a student of the Tingatinga school, nor a member of the Tingatinga Society, he’s known to have frequented Tingatinga artists, and some influence of Tingatinga is evident in his work, for what concerns painting (an art form that Lilanga approached in 1974). This influence has been recognized by Lilanga himself in an interview with Kenji Shiraishi, specifically in reference to the use of enamel paint and square hardboards. Besides using materials and techniques originally adopted by Tingatinga painters, Lilanga’s art resembles Tingatinga also in its use of vibrant colors and its composition style, that shares the same horror vacui of Tingatinga art. It has been suggested that Lilanga (who was originally a sculptor) actually learned to paint from Tingatinga painters such as Noel Kapanda and later Mchimbi Halfani, who collaborated with him. The collaboration between Lilanga and Kapanda lasted several years.

Tinga Tinga Art has significantly evolved from its humble origins in the decoration of hut walls. It is possible to still find such wall paintings in Mozambique and southern Tanzania, where Edward Tinga Tinga’s family settled.

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

Edward Tinga Tinga belonged to a small tribe called Ndonde. Interestingly, the tribe continues to paint on hut walls until today.

The artists apply colored soils, ash and charcoal to the walls of the huts. They paint objects seen in their surroundings, including airplanes and helicopters, the only attribute belonging to the world "outside". Most of the paintings deal with the people and the wild animals. The popular leopard paintings seen in the "commercial" Tinga art were also found on the hut walls.

These are a few facts on the popular Tanzanian style of art:

- Tanzania's most well-known style of African painting was begun in the 1960s by Edward Saidi Tingatinga, after whom it is named. Tingatinga was born in 1932 in southern Tanzania's remote Tunduru district, and had only four years of primary school, in the 1950s, he headed north to Tanga, where he worked on a sisal plantation, and then later to Dar es Salaam, where he worked as domestic help fora British civil servant. During his time in Dar es Salaam, Tingatinga began to seek creative outlets and additional income, first as a member of a musical group, and later as a self-taught artist, painting fanciful and colorful animals on small shingles.

- Tingatinga's wife sold his paintings near Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, and his work soon became popular with European tourists. As his success grew, Tingatinga began to attract a small circle of students, with first his relatives and then others learning to imitate his style.

Then, one night in 1972, Tingatinga was mistaken for an escaping thief and fatally shot by the police. Following his death, Tingatinga's students organised themselves into the Tingatinga Partnership, which in 1990 was renamed the Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society. This cooperative, which numbers about 50 members (including two women), is still based near Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, where Tingatinga's works were originally sold. It has received significant support in recent years, including a new building, from Helvetas (the Swiss Association for International Cooperation).

- Traditional Tingatinga paintings are composed in a square format, and generally feature colorful 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.

- The life of Edward Saidi Tingatinga was cut short in a 1972 car accident and shooting incident, which occurred just as he was achieving recognition for his square-board paintings. The informal painting school which bears his name has gained a foothold in the panorama of modern African art, and its practitioners continue to earn a livelihood from painting long after the departure of Tingatinga. The paintings are popular with non-African buyers, especially Europeans and Japanese, and there is evidence that stylistic elements and themes are geared to these foreign tastes. The sixty-three paintings illustrated in color in this book are from the collection of the Rosenfeld-Blank family, a German couple from Bad Kissingen.

- Edward Saidi Tingatinga, a self-taught painter born in a village in southern Tanzania on the border of Mozambique, hit upon a successful formula which quickly found a market in Dar es Salaam. Painting on square boards 60 inches x 60 inches, he created fanciful, colorful images of animals and people. Soon he attracted young followers and the Tingatinga school arose, based in the village of Msasani near Dar es Salaam. Although Tingatinga died in 1972, still relatively young, his vision lives on in works of Amonde, Mruta, Tedo and others. This 1987 exhibition in Bonn featured forty-five works of eighteen Msasani painters. Twenty-one black-and-white illustrations.

- Edward Saidi Tingatinga had a very brief artistic career, cut short by his death in 1972. However, he started an informal art movement that now bears his name, and it continues to be active in Dar es Salaam. The Tingatinga paintings are highly colorful and decorative images of birds (the most common subject), wild animals, daily life, and spirit figures (shetini, mganga, and mizimu). They are always painted in flat, bright colors and lack a depth perspective. In this volume, there are 146 paintings, all by Tingatinga's followers, reproduced in color.

- Another thirty-six works of art of the Nyumba ya Sanaa group are illustrated. This group of self-taught Tanzanian artists specializes in batiks, wood-prints and drawings, also made primarily for the expatriate market.

- Jaffary Aussi, one of the more innovative among the younger generation of Tingatinga artists, has carried on the Tingatinga tradition with his own distinctive stylistic interpretations and experiments in color and perspective of distortion. Yet he remains firmly rooted in the original Tingatinga sensibility. Animals predominate in his paintings as they do in all Tingatinga paintings. In fact, it is the animal-man relationship that is one of the hallmarks of this informal school of painting founded (almost by chance) by Edward Saidi Tingatinga in Dar es Salaam in the late 1960s. Tingatinga and his followers are mainly Makua, and it is argued here that Makuan folklore and legends form a thematic base for the Tingatinga paintings, even among younger adherents, who are urban born and bred. Being related by blood ties and working closely together, Tingatinga painting is "family art."

- The works of Jaffary Aussi constitute the centerpiece of this second Tingatinga book by this Japanese publisher. Yamamoto introduces the artist, and Shiraishi in his essay "Portraits of coexistence" elucidates the larger phenomenon of the Tingatinga school and, in particular, its founder Edward S. Tingatinga.   

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