Tinga Tinga: Art of Tanzania

On my travels I often bring back artwork as mementos. While in Tanzania, I fell in love with a style of painting known as Tinga Tinga. It is colourful, dynamic, charming and named after the painter who developed the style – Edward Saidi Tingatinga.

Tinga Tinga white birds

I saw this piece during my first day in Moshi, Tanzania. It even had cracks in the paint already but I just loved it and took it home with me. Not everyone is a fan however, there are those who argue it's kitsch but since when did capturing the life, environment and culture of a people constitute as kitsch?

A “naive” style of painting

Tinga Tinga art is considered a “naive style” (I use this term lightly since I take issue with it but that’s another blog post) which uses repetition of colours, lines and shapes. It has a rhythm – just like Africa. The subjects in these paintings usually highlight animals, vegetation, the tribal life of the Maasai and increasingly, just daily life in Tanzania and East Africa. When I first saw these paintings in Moshi, I thought they were quaint but after spending time there, experiencing the buzz, the people, the dust, the way Tanzanians still tell time by the sunrise and sunset, the safaris and seeing animals in their natural surroundings, I came to appreciate Tinga Tinga art for really capturing the pulse of Africa in its essence. It is tied to the land, it is full of energy, it can be joyful and it is very much alive.

The back cover of a Tinga Tinga colouring book I found in Tanzania: I tried to find a web presence, but couldn't find anything on the publisher - Blue Rhino. If you happen to come across any info on them please let me know!

From selling on the streets to gallery showings

The use of vivid colour in these paintings comes from its humble beginnings in the late 60s in Dar Es Salaam when, as a teenager, Edward Tingatinga began painting on masonite boards using bicycle paint – two materials which were readily available. Tingatinga sold his paintings in front of a convenience store and as Western tourists came to Tanzania, the popularity of these paintings grew. Tingatinga trained others to paint in this style and out of that grew the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society. You can still buy authentic Tinga Tinga work from them.

Tinga Tinga - Rhinos and birds

This is small piece on canvas I brought back for a friend.

Birds on Green background

This is a small painting on masonite measuring approximately 8 x 5 inches. Though Tinga Tinga paintings are also painted on canvas now, the original works were painted with enamel paint on inexpensive masonite boards.

Kitsch or art form?

Tinga Tinga style of painting is increasingly making appearances at Western galleries but it’s still an underdog – especially in the art snob world where some regard the style as childlike and simplistic. Not to worry, consider it an opportunity if you look at it as “emerging art”. As an investment piece Tinga Tinga is still largely underestimated yet they have sold at Sotheby’s and other art auctions for tens of thousands of dollars.

What do you think? Is it kitsch or a unique artform?