058_G19_Arena

Global

Arena Arts Tinga Tinga: an African tale Tanzania’s trademark art style has become representative of African art the world over – but is it staunching the market for new forms of African art? Kate Bystrova Tinga Tinga’s colourful, caricatural style is instantly recognisable. Often heralded as simplistic and naïve – think kids’ cartoon Tinga Tinga Tales – it uses broad lines and bright colours to portray its subjects in an expressive and often humorous way. More than 40 years since its inception by Edward Saidi Tingatinga, the style is more popular than ever – and its appeal is growing. Daniel Augusta, managing director of TANART, the Tanzania Art and Licensing Agency, tries to explain its popularity through an analogy with Darwinian theory. “In biology there is interaction between species (paintings) and environment, including the predators (customers). Now, if the environment changes (the taste of customers), the species changes to the new conditions (the broad variation of paintings). The survival of fittest is the concept.” While in other countries, art has been nurtured by wealthy patrons, Tanzania’s trademark style draws its support from the tourism sector. As a result, artists have had to cater to their visitors, reproducing designs and subjects that have proven popular in the past in order to secure a living. Busy compositions and the use of gradients are typical of Daimu Zuberi’s work “It is the most popular painting which sells and thus provides means for the artist to further his art endeavour. And this painting is reproduced with small variations. What is important to understand is this: the artists cater for the taste of customers,” says Augusta. “And it is mutual interaction. Both the buyer and seller (customer and the artist) must come to an agreement which does not step over their cultural comfort zones. “Some refer to it as tourist art, but many of the ‘tourists’ are curators – art dealers, museum employees, etc. So it could be called ‘curator art’,” says Augusta. “Suddenly it sounds much better!” Tinga Tinga paintings are traditionally built up using layers upon layers of brightly coloured bicycle paint on Masonite – a type of wooden board – creating vibrant, colour-saturated pictures. These days, many artists use faster-drying enamel paint on small, tourist-friendly canvases in order to support the ‘airport art’ culture and promote saleability. Similarly, the subjects of such Tinga Tinga pictures tend to be stereotypically African, representing the ‘big five’ – lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros – as well as wild fauna, people and villages. What started off as the artistic expression of one man has evolved into a legacy that has, on one hand, established a popular tourist trade that responds to market demand and, on the other, inspired hundreds of artists – there are currently around 700 practising Tinga Tinga artists in Tanzania – to develop their own take on the style. But it is not an easy tradition to break from. Tinga Tinga has become an African trademark – it is the keepsake that every visitor to the continent hopes to bring home – and that has made it difficult for practitioners of other styles to get noticed. “I would say that Tinga Tinga poses quite a big competitive threat. It is difficult to compete with because of price. Tinga Tinga paintings are cheaper than any other visual art in Tanzania,” says Augusta. “And Tinga Tinga is accepted as the genuine art of Tanzania too, so the artists may find it difficult to draw attention to their own creations.” Whether choosing the route of mass-producing popular designs or testing the waters with more innovative work, Daniel Augusta explains that painters share a common goal. “I think that the primary aim of Tinga Tinga painters is to sell their paintings,” he says. “There is no doubt about it.” An aesthetic art, Tinga Tinga aims to represent the world in a striking way, rather than to mine it for meaning. There are, of course, some notable exceptions. For example, Mohammed Charinda’s paintings investigate serious issues, from the old slave trade to recent albino killings. But he pays a high price.  four 58 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global


Global
To see the actual publication please follow the link above