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Tingatinga art in town

Belgian collector brings famous Tanzanian artists to Kampala

By Dominic Muwanguzi

Tingatinga art movement birthed by one Edward Saidi Tingatinga in 1968 in Tanzania is a style that involves repetitive decorative design of wildlife and day to day lifestyle. The images are washed in a bright colorful palette that is glossy because of the enamel paint that is used.

An exhibition of paintings from some of the masters of Tingatinga- the first generation Tingatinga artists- like Mohammed Charinda (showcasing work at the British Museum in London), George Lilanga and David Mzuguno, and some contemporary names is showing now at AKA gallery, Kampala. The exhibition presented by Belgium artist and art collector, Yves Goscinny.

“This show is part of my initiative to expose Tingatinga art movement beyond  the boundaries of Tanzania,”  says Yves who has also published a book “A concise Study on Contemporary Art in Tanzania” funded by the Switzerland Embassy in Tanzania.

The images hanging on the walls of AKA gallery evoke a feeling of serenity and beauty that is typical of the wild vegetation in this part of Africa. Images of towering giraffes, elephants, lions, zebra and birds like peacock- a recurring motif representing the aspect of beauty- adorn the canvases.  The technique of painting these animals in a cartoon- descriptive fashion alludes to the simplicity of the artwork that anyone can identify and relate to it.

The artists are also able to capture the hustle and bustle of urban life: a metaphor to the mass migration to the city by many rural people today. Nevertheless, the long-standing tradition inspired by state founder, Mzee Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, of the urbanites having a strong bond with their rural roots is reminiscent in most of these works.  A painting by Mohammed Charinda, “Agriculture Fair 08/08” depicts this scenario.  A woman living in the city artistically presented by a female figure dressed in western fabric, stylish hairstyle and lip-stick on her lips, has a vision of the rural life setting in her head. This emphasizes the idea that she may be living in the city but has strong attachments to village.

George Lilanga’s paintings of gothic images popularly known as “mashetani” in swahilli evoke the notion of traditional belief that many Tanzanians embrace.  The idea of believing in supernatural powers and the ability of these celestial creatures to possess powers that can influence the destiny of an individual or community is prevalent in many African communities despite Christianity and Islam being dominant religions.

Lilanga paints grotesque cartoon personages very much alike human beings but with elongated heads, ears and lean bodies involved in different activities symbolic of sacrifices and charm.

This gothic character is replicated in the painted wood carving sculptures on display in the gallery space. The sculpture images sometimes of couples in lovey-dovey embraces and traffic police officers rooted in the Makonde culture of the southern part of Tanzania suggest the holistic nature of Tanzanian traditional artisans and artists.  In the contemporary context, these images are a mockery to the social and political injustice by the so- called political elite.

Tingatinga painting stimulates the idea of simplicity and spontaneity within the visual arts while celebrating the long-standing tradition of storytelling. The artists are deeply expressive in their work and present these painting in a naïve-child-like style that anyone can relate to. This is the real strength of these paintings that young and old, educated and non-educated can find pleasure in appreciating them.

More so, these works convey the message of preserving Africa’s wildlife that is so much endangered in this era of industrialization and human population explosion. As different institutions try to find solution to the challenge of wildlife conservation, these paintings can be used to create awareness to the public on the subject and importance of keeping it organic.

AKA gallery is located on Bukoto Street next to the Alliance Francaise and German Cultural Centre offices.

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