A Father's Legacy

There once was a man by the name of Eduardo S. Tingatinga, who grew up in a farm family in Mozambique and made his way to Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania in 1955 at the age of 16. He established an art form that became associated with his new homeland, Tanzania. He made his first paintings in 1965 or 1967. His discovery that he could derive an income from this, led to several of his relatives to also begin painting on masonite, an easily available material, with bicycle paint.

The paintings were sold outside of a convenience store in Oysterbay, a white residential area in Dar-Es-Salaam. Cooperation amongst the artists meant that some of them began to specialize in backgrounds while others focused on the main motifs. This also led to some of them becoming leading names within the established Tingatinga art form. Later it was through a Scandinavian initiative that Tingatinga was able to put his work on display at the national museum in the capital, and which is considered to have been the first domestic exhibition at the museum, as well as the first one to incorporate autodidacts (self-taught artists). One night in 1972, Tingatinga was mistaken for an escaping thief and fatally shot by the police. Following his death, Tingatinga's students organised themselves into the Tingatinga Partnership, which in 1990 was renamed the Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society. This cooperative, which numbers about 50 members (including two women), is still based near Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, where Tingatinga's works were originally sold.

Over the years, knowledge about Tingatinga has spread to other parts of Africa and Europe, as well as to other English-speaking parts of the world. In the past, Tingatinga art could be sold on its name alone, but increasingly other works of art are being presented as "Tingatinga" as well.

But there is a conflict in Tingatinga art these days, especially when one looks at how it has been developed by the followers of the artist who gave it his name. There is a collision or an encounter of two or three of the world's leading art idioms. It was Tingatinga's successors who developed the decorative vein of Tingatinga painting, while the artist himself painted "the big five" and other motifs that were not at all based on the decorative art idiom. "The big five" was a central theme of art and handicrafts from southern and eastern Africa, symbolizing the typical, large animals on the continent: elephant, lion, giraffe, hippopotamus and antelope (or ox). It is closer to being a single-motif art form, a narrative image with a main subject and contributing attributes and symbols. This sort of imagery is found both in the three-dimensional art (sculpture, masks) of other African cultures, as well as in the foundations of Western European art idioms.

Around 2005, Tingatinga's son, Daudi, has began reviving the traditinal idiom.