By Elsbeth Court
This summer [July & August, 2010] the Tinga Tinga art movement was the focus of several unrelated cultural events, which brought with it the opportunity to see and consider the continuity and new directions of this popular genre of Tanzanian art.
A brightly-coloured and uncomplicated style of narrative painting on square board was invented by Tinga Tinga aka Edward Saidi in 1968.
Copenhagen: Installation With Lilanga’s Sculpture
Most accounts relate he, then a labourer in Dar-es-Salaam, was inspired by colourful Congolese paintings on paper which were sold in the open air by vendors in the capital. Tinga Tinga had already been making figurative paintings on building walls in Ruvuma and Dar, following a practice that is a recent but local tradition of his Makua ethnicity (Thorup 2010:20-22).
The season’s cultural events included two exhibitions: ‘TINGATINGA Unique Paintings from Tanzania’ (Croydon Clocktower Gallery, south London, 3.07.10 – 27.08.10 with some 25 works), ‘TINGA TINGA KITSCH or QUALITY Bicycle enamel on board and canvas’ (Round Tower Gallery, central Copenhagen, 3.07.10 -22.08.10 with some 100 works) and the animated CBBC television series ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’.
The latter, a totally new departure if remarkable appropriation generated in Nairobi, indicates the continuing and general appeal of the Tanzanian style, nonetheless, the initiative is beyond the scope of this account which concentrates on the exhibitions and particularly on the little gem that cheered up Croydon during the summer.
Both exhibitions were the results of enthusiasts who wanted to share their personal involvements with the artists (in Tanzania) and their own painting collections. While the Croydon show was organised solely by amateurs Stef and Maggie Van der Heuvel (both of whom have day jobs in Croydon’s social services), the Danish effort of thorupART (a family art consultancy) had considerable professional input, such as the photographs of anthropologist Jesper Kerknaes who has been involved with the Tinga Tinga movement since its beginning.
Croydon, London: Tanzanian Deputy High Commissioner Kilumanga Opening the Exhibition
The Copenhagen exhibition included loans (13 by Tinga Tinga himself and many sculptures by Lilanga) and published an attractive and comprehensive catalogue, the best to date.
Comparison may seem unfair, but van der Heuvel’s modest collection stands up well, offering an overview of the movement’s history through selected paintings and a good range of contemporary practice including a painting by Lilanga and several by Charinda. His work is interesting because he tackles different subject matter, whether shetani, slave trade or daily life (one on display in the British Museum) in the same graphic style.
Other current artists use different graphic styles but keep the characteristic colour palette. To its credit, the movement has been able to accommodate differing approaches while some artists maintain the classic repertoire, especially those related to the first generation (one of whom is a woman: Agnes Mpata). Van der Heuvel also displayed contextual material, consisting of objects, for example two Chagga bowls decorated in Tinga Tinga style, greeting cards and other ephemera as well as relevant books such as Yves Gosginny’s Tinga Tinga Popular Painting from Tanzania and Chris Spring’s Angaza Afrika African Art Now.
Overall, ‘TINGATINGA Unique Paintings’ provides an excellent introduction, even if some of us (those in academe) query the organizer’s use of descriptors like ‘unique’ and ‘exotic’ for what is a national style. I found a bit of a mismatch between the works and the rhetoric (and wanted documentation) but these matters seemed not to bother the Tanzanians at the Preview.
Round Tower Gallery, central Copenhagen: Installation With Lilanga’s Sculpture
Indeed, in his opening speech the Deputy High Commissioner Chabaka Kilumanga reiterated that he had bestowed Stef Van der Heuvel with the honorary title ‘TingaTinga Ambassador to the UK’ and congratulated him warmly for rekindling interest in Tinga TInga including his own.
Guests turned out from the BTS, the British Museum, the BBC, Croydon Council and from the community.
Posted By: Hirum Ndungu
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