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What is Tinga Tinga Art?

What is Tinga Tinga Art?

June 17, 2018

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.

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.

This style 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. It is an art form that is not purely traditional. It is part and parcel of contemporary African culture that is born out of modernism. Its provenance can be explained by one artist –Edward Saidi Tinga Tinga from Tanzania who became a street vendor after losing his job as a gardener.

He bought fruit vegetables and cycled to Oyster Buy district to sell door-to-door. It is during this time that he began offering his skills as a painter, decorating houses and producing wall paintings.

From this activity he was able to collect tins of paint and scraps of hard board and in his spare time began to paint animals and other scenes for his own amusement. In the 1970s a tourist bought one of his artworks and began to promote it.

His paintings were soon in high demand.

 Early Tinga Tinga painting are traditionally composed in square format, they feature brightly colored animal motif against a monochrome background. Each is related to a legend or saying from Tinga Tinga's Makua tribal culture.

Though the subject matter is rural, the painting is a distinctly urban art form, evolved on the streets of Dar es Salaam and conceived not as a means of personal expression, but as a method of earning money.

Tinga Tinga Art

With its cheerful subject matter, Tinga Tinga's art was calculated to appeal to the romantic notions of African life held by tourists.

In 1972, in the midst of a burgeoning artistic career, Edward Tinga Tinga was shot dead by police in a case of mistaken identity. His fellow artists in Dar later formed the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society in his name, and the style he originated became a school of painting for artists from Dar and Zanzibar. Today, the Tinga Tinga artists working in Dar and Zanzibar produce paintings faithful to the generic Tinga Tinga themes of big game and birds. Zanzibari artists have influenced traditional Tinga Tinga Art themes, adding fish, monkeys, coconut palms, musical instruments and people.

Tinga Tinga Art by Edward Tinga Tinga

Current Tinga Tinga artists paint on stretched muslin and canvas however they still uphold the tradition of painting only with bicycle enamel. The paintings are popular beyond Africa for instance in Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland as well as the USA.


The paintings can be as small as ceramic tiles, while the biggest paintings are hanging above thousands of family room sofas. Market limitations have prevented artists from working in larger formats. A majority of the buyers have been foreigners wanting to transport the images out of the country by airplane. From that perspective, Tinga Tinga Art is a genuine form of "airport art" - cultural art from developing nations that has been adapted to the special requirements of long distance travelers, including size. The choice of motifs in Tinga Tinga Art has often been adapted to the purchaser's expectations of what should be included in an African painting.

The rendition of colors depends with the screen used and could be changed slightly. In reality, the paintings are much more colorful and lovelier than pictured originally as confirmed by respective owners. Only high class materials are used, all paintings are twice varnished for protection hence in most paintings framing is not necessary, since all sides are painted however some are framed with highly crafted wooden frames. Tinga Tinga art paintings are flexible in those special motifs, details or colors can be created.

The heart of Tinga Tinga paintings is centered on coastal east African design, where the decorative vines and patterns of the Swahili culture cover outlined 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.

Psychological studies first conducted by advertising firms suggest that color selection can influence mood and behavior, stimulate the brain and body and even affect one‟s health.

Scientific studies have also found that exposure to certain colors can improve sleep habits, increase memory power and even enhance academic performance.

The color blue for instance calms the mind and body, lowering blood pressure, heart rate and respiration and decreasing feelings of anxiety and aggression. Children who have trouble sleeping or are prone to tantrums and other behavioral problems may benefit from spending time in a blue environment. The physical effects of blue also cool the body, creating a refreshing oasis in hot, humid locations.

The Tinga Tinga Arts Partnership

Since then the family of Edward Saidi Tinga Tinga operates from Tinga Tinga Partnership and later from Tinga Tinga Arts Co-operative Society based in the commercial capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam. Though the Tinga Tinga refers to art, much of the production is rather handicraft which includes the reproduced paintings and various products aimed for international markets. These products include hand-painted plates, glass, pencils, decorative objects and others. 

Tinga Tinga brand spread throughout Tanzania and East Africa -without any effective tools to protect the name and production of the Tinga Tinga Cooperative. Tourists may find Tinga Tinga paintings and products in Zanzibar, Arusha and even in Kenya. Today, there are estimated 500 painters in East Africa. Most of them copy and imitate the art and handicraft of the family of Edward Saidi Tinga Tinga. 

Most tourists will encounter the Tinga Tinga painters on Zanzibar, Moshi (a city under Kilimanjaro mountain), Arusha, Mto wa Mbu (city respective town near Serengeti National Park). The reason is simple - the art is catering to tourists, the painters strive to sell their paintings to the casual foreign visitors. But this website brings you much more! It brings you the paintings which almost never reach the hands of casual traveller but makes it into museums, galleries and auctions houses. You too may decorate your own spaces with this much appreciated art work!

They are several hundred Tinga Tinga painters in Tanzania now. Maybe one hundred of them are really good. But the point here is that they are not the same. All have a distinctive style, a personal touch. And some are very different.

Tinga Tinga Art is so popular, it attracts millions of tourists every year to East Africa.



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