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Tourism & Tradition: Tingatinga & his Painters

Sourced from - Adapted from Berit Sahlstrom

During the 1960's, Edward S. Tingatinga established an African painting style that became associated with his home country, Tanzania. The name today, "Tingatinga" refers to his form of art in Tanzania and across the world, especially in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Kenya.

Tingatinga African art paintings are for sale in stores and websites all over the world. The authentic paintings, wherever they end up, should have come from the Tingatinga Cooperative Society in Dar es Salaam,Tanzania. This organization is the closest organization to Edward Tingatinga's line of heirs. With several family members working there, the Cooperative holds around 100 painters and produces quality works of all sizes and paintings not only on canvas, but also on household items, games, name souvenirs and more.

In the later half of the 2000 decade, Tingatinga got a good break and a problem when Disney created "Tinga Tinga Tales," a cartoon that told parables and lessons based on Tinga Tinga animals in the jungle. It employed some painters from the Tingatinga Cooperative Society, but unfortunately their terms of employment, pay, and copyright issues created a rift with its leaders. Tinga Tinga Tales was produced in Kenya and aired in the United Kingdom and the United States with 52 episodes.

But what distinguishes the actual Tingatinga African artwork form? Technically speaking, it can be identified as paintings on masonite that applies bicycle paint to its surface. The paintings have been made in small sizes, such as in ceramic tiles, and as big African paintings that are vibrant and very popular for the thousands of them that have sold.

Although, made in Tanzania, most of the Tingatinga artworks have been bought by foreigners who visit Africa and bring the African paintings back to their home country. This kind of market has made Tingatinga a strong example of "Airport Art" - art from from a developing nation's culture that has been created to tickle the special appeal and patterns of likability from overseas visitors.

The center of Tingatinga African artwork is from the coastal east African design. This subject focuses on the designs of the Swahili culture that fill the whole canvas, without leaving much empty space or solid color without a subject or pattern being painted over it. Cities that had marketplaces surrounding the East African oceans had medieval style wooden doors that resembled it and so did the clothing fabrics made out of cotton called Kitenges and Kangas.

In recent times, other young painters and handicrafts people who made embroidery, sculpturing and carpentry practiced the Tingatinga style. Some examples of this are: Malangatana, painter Mankeu and sketcher Idasse, all from Mozambique, and Helen Sebidi from South Africa

José Craverinha can also be mentioned among these modern artists who have followed in the footsteps of Tingatinga throughout the decorative designs of Swahili culture. His purposeful and strong motifs contained linoleum cuts designed during the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's at the art schools and missionary centers in Tanzania and South Africa.

There are similarities in Tingatinga art that make it conflict with not being unique, by both Edward himself and the followers who came after his death. The patterns come along with a few of the world's leading art mode of expressions. Tingatinga's successors created the colorful and well known attributes the African artwork, while Edward alone painted The Big Five, a common theme of art and crafts from Eastern and Southern Africa. The Big Five, when used by an African artist, symbolizes the populated and large animals of Africa: the powerful lion, the mighty elephant, the elegant giraffe, the big hippopotamus and the many of the antelope or bull species.

By filling the canvas completely with one or more of these wildlife, Tingatinga African artists often use their patterns as if they were a part of the Swahili tradition alone. Two animals are intricately painted right next to each other, looking as if they were woven calligraphy letters from an old design of Nordic textile.

Bicycle paint, the medium used in many Tingatinga paintings, makes clear, vibrant colored African pictures that contain sharp contrast and shades. The artist paints the background, lets the paint dry, and then works on the actual motif. This artistic method, along with the thick medium of bicycle paint, makes Tingatinga paintings easily identifiable because they contrast the layers of colors and contours.

Tingatinga African artists have been financially sustained by the sales of individual works and entire collections, as well as paintings on a variety of subjects, as noted earlier. Several exhibitions have been arranged in Scandinavia and other areas around the world. If there is any time of peaking for Tingatinga African artwork, it has been in the late 2000's, thanks to well-designed web sites and a channel of resellers associated with those websites.

Mia Terént wrote an art history paper entitled "Eduardo S. Tingatinga and his Art" in early 1996. According to Mia Terénts introductory text, Eduardo S. Tingatinga grew up in a farm family in Mozambique (a fact that is challenged) and made his way to Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania in 1955, when he was 16. He made his first paintings ten years later in the mid 1960's. Discovering that he could make an income from this, it influenced several of his relatives to also begin painting. They painted in the same way as Edward: on Masonite with bicycle paint.

These African artworks sold outside of a convenience store in Oysterbay, which was commonly a Caucasian residential population in Dar-Es-Salaam. The artists cooperated and made paintings faster by specializing in backgrounds by some and others would paint the main subjects. It is sourced that through a Scandinavian initiative, Edward Tingatinga was allowed to show his artwork at the National Museum in the capital. It is considered to have been the Museum's very first domestic exhibition.

Edward Tingatinga's successors include his half brother Seymond Mpata who started his career by painting the landscape of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Big Five. Also included is a cousin to Eduardo's wife, January Linda, cousins Alcis Amonde and Kasper Henrik Tedo, and nephew Abdallah Ajaba.

Edward Tingatinga was unfortunately and accidentally shot and killed in 1972 when, in his travels, he entered a restricted area in Tanzania near a harbor. He was ordered to stop and chose instead to run from the police, who killed him.

The term Tingatinga paintings has stretched and is now used to describe several kinds of colorful paintings.

Berit Sahlström is an art critic, and Ph.D. in art history at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.