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Monday 6th November, 2000
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Writer :
Louise Oliver

Howdy Starshipper,

This morning as the sun was breaking the night sky into day; Michael, DJ, Reimer and Joerg headed out into the wilderness of Tanzania to go on Safari. Africa is well known for it’s elements of rich and raw nature teeming with an incredible combination of animals. They hope to see some of nature’s most powerfully explosive beasts in their natural habitat. Later in the week Reimer plans to return to Bagamoyo and take a dhow to Zanzibar, this final step in the story will later tell of fortunes past.

This morning Charles and Lisa headed into town to arrange fuel and clear customs so that we can continue exploring this incredible continent. Diana, James and I also made our way into town. Our mission was to track down the infamous Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society. Taking a short taxi ride we soon found ourselves in the midst of something incredible and amazing. Curling in behind the Morogoro Stores there is an open space filled with bulging bright colours.

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A young artist working in the studio.
[ photo- James Frankham ]

One of the most incredible things about Africa is the multitude of artwork. In this corner of Dar es Salaam we found the essence of new age painting in Tanzania. Mr Edward Said Tingatinga was the founder of what is commonly called Tingatinga. In 1932, in the remote Tunduru district, Edward Tingatinga was born. During the 50’s he worked with many of his relatives in a sisal plantation before later moving to Dar es Salaam where he began painting fanciful artworks on weatherboards. His family sold the paintings to tourists and his popularity soon grew, as too did his local interest and he acquired a following of students. This included his half brother Omari Amonde, who is now the only remaining of the original students.

The Swiss government assisted with the building of the gallery at the back of Morogoro Stores where previously a great baobab tree stood providing shade to the artists as they worked. Following an exhibition in Switzerland selling over 60 of the paintings the Swiss company Helvetas assisted the group by helping them build a gallery and working studio.

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An excited group of members, proud of their work.
[ photo- James Frankham ]

Over time artists have come and gone; at present there are 30 members and around 70 apprentices, each artist works at the gallery. We spoke in some depth with Omari and his brother Mkura. Born in 1940, Omari joined Edward in Dar es Salam working first as a gardener. Later in 1972 he returned after spending time in Tanga and continued in the path of Edward and he has remained here since. He is an extremely humble gentleman proud of the heritage and background of this incredible art movement; in particular the traditional methods and styles of Tingatinga.

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Traditionally the paintings are composed in a square format depicting colourful African animal patterns against a monochrome background. One of the most distinguishing and refreshing characteristics of the paintings is the use of full strength enamels, vibrant in colour. One of the very magic things about this style of painting has been kept; the unique freshness and creative flashes are still evident in Ormari’s work. The original style can also bee seen when you watch Tingatinga’s son work.

The paintings often reflect an aspect of the lives of the artist and over time political, economic and social trends have influenced the change of the style. Talking with some of the artists it is recognised that in order to sell their paintings they must cater to the demand of the market, more and more foreigners are appealing to the work and ask for more colour and more activity.

About six months ago Jos Michielse (tingatinga@hetnet.nl) first came to Tanzania after hearing from a friend about the artwork in Dar es Salaam. Once arriving his passion for the works and the people quickly grew and he has returned to visit the community of artists several times. We were fortunate to meet with him today as he was collecting 60 pieces for an exhibition to be held in Holland in December. After first laying eyes on the images he wanted to help promote the art movement and increase global interest, simply because he saw their love of the work as inspiration. Tomorrow he will return home with the pictures and prepare for the event. In December he will be joined by one of the artists who will be at the exhibit to tell people about the history of the works of Tingatinga and the tradition that has kept this magic form of art alive for the past 30 years. Send him an e-mail to find out more.

The multitude of canvases on display is simply astonishing and each has it’s own unique style symbolic of the artist who painted it. The three of us sat in awe of the amazing talents of the individuals around us who where extremely happy to share their stories about painting and how they began. Also in the gallery you will find a number of budding sculptors that work with ebony to create many different representations of their culture in wood. Most popular according to one of the artists Raual are the pieces representing figures of the Massi. The wood serves as a perfect medium in which to capture the exquisite elegance and poise.

After an astonishing morning we returned to STARSHIP to share the images of our day with the rest of the crew while we settle in for a quite evening. This small piece of the Tanzanian culture is one definitely not to be missed.

See you tomorrow,