After our adventure on the Tazara line, we stayed a couple of days in Dar es Salaam, which is the largest city in Tanzania. It is also the home of the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative, which was established over 20 years ago to preserve the legacy of the original Tinga Tinga painting style. A brightly colorful, pattern-like style that is unique to Tanzania, Tinga Tinga was invented by Edward Tingatinga in 1968, and was subsequently trademarked by his family. You can read more about the characteristics that make up the Tinga Tinga style here.
Although it began as a style focused purely on colorful animals, there has recently been (I estimate in the past 5 years or so) an offshoot of Tinga Tinga that has switched to portraying the human element. And not just your typical tourist painting of traditional village people walking with clay pots balanced on their heads. These newer Tinga Tinga paintings are often commentaries on very contemporary life – city streets, hospitals, markets, all bustling with activity, and usually somewhat comical or satirical. This was the style we had in mind when we headed down to the Tinga Tinga Co-op to scout out an artist we could commission to paint a scene commemorating Steve’s motorcycle taxi research in Moshi.
Just being able to go to the Co-op was an experience in and of itself, and we spent quite a while wandering around, looking over the (hundreds of) pieces of artwork hanging on the walls, trying to find a style we thought would fit what we were looking for.
The artist we finally decided upon was actually selling his work in one of the many kiosks that had sprung up immediately outside of the co-op building. I gather that the artists featured in these impromptu shops were not part of the official co-op. ‘Knock-offs,’ you could call them. I’m not sure if they just didn’t make the cut, or maybe they didn’t find the yearly fee associated with being considered ‘official’ Tinga Tinga worth it.
The artist, Mkomea, wasn’t around – we had just spotted his paintings and liked them – so we had the shopkeeper give him a call to ask if he could meet us. When he arrived, we explained what we wanted: a painting in his style, of Moshi and KCMC, with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background, lots of Boda Boda (motorcycle taxis) in the streets, and an accident involving some motorcycles somewhere in the painting. He seemed to understand, although my swahili was broken and his general demeanor gave the impression of being slightly high. We agreed on a price, paid half up front, and left, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, and bracing ourselves for the chance that Mkomea would disappear, and our painting with him.
But he did, in fact, finish the painting! We had some friends traveling to Dar who picked it up for us, and it exceeded all of our expectations.