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Study of the "Tingatinga School" Art (Summary) Kenji Shiraishi

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

The founder, Tingatinga, is from the Makua ethnic group living in southern Tanzania, near the border with Mozambique. Many of the artists who worked with him such as Linda, Mpata, and Mruta, as well as Jaffary Aussi and Bushiri, are related by blood. In other words, many of the "Tingatinga School" of painting artists are from the Makua group.

So, when did this "Tingatinga School" painting originate? Tingatinga moved from his rural hometown to the capital city of Dar es Salaam, where he worked on a construction site in the late 1960s. It was there that he came up with the idea of painting on masonite boards, a building material, using enamel paint. The board itself was large, but Tingatinga cut it into squares of 60 cm in length and width and painted on it. After Tingatinga's accidental death, these direct pupils took over the composition and spirit of Tingatinga, and many artists have since emerged from the second generation, including Rashidi and Mussa.

Two-dimensional art is a relatively new art field in Africa (compared to three-dimensional sculpture, etc.) The Tingatinga school of painting started from a place completely unrelated to European intellectual art or art movements. Although their history is young, their world is their own, with no "influences" other than the use of "square boards" and "painting materials" from Europe. Their themes are original and closely related to life in their native region, including animals, birds, village life, and magicians. In the past, African people coexisted with animals, and there must have been a sense of awe towards wild animals. As the interdependent ecosystem between animals and humans collapses, the spiritual connection will also be in the process of disappearing. In this context, the Tingatinga group of artists have a unique relationship with animals.

The birth of the Tingatinga school of painting was not unrelated to the increase in tourism to Africa. Tingatinga, who had drifted to the big city, in fact came up with the idea of board painting after seeing cheap landscape paintings being sold to tourists on the streets of the capital. The paintings started as Souvenir Art. However, it is also true that this art is more than just "souvenir art." These artists do not talk about art movements, rediscovery of ethnic cultures, indigenous art, or any other ostentatious things. They learn from the paintings of their peers. They do not receive formal art education. In fact, even when they draw on a board, they do not do any kind of drafting. But the resulting works are imbued with a wonderful sense of color and exquisite compositional skills that are unimaginable. It would require more than a little prejudice to dismiss them as "souvenir art.” What kind of power resides in their minds? Mystically speaking, it could be magic, fate, or instinct. The artists were "predestined" by the gods to keep alive in two-dimensional art the ancient memories of their people, and by extension, the African people, by taking the energy and genius that they had internalized, and exploding it all at once with a square board and enamel paint". This is the "Tingatinga School" of painting. Needless to say, the African continent is the birthplace of humankind, and its longevity goes beyond thousands of years since prehistoric times. The people of Africa have more memories of this place than any other people in the world. In Africa, which retains a deep and direct connection with the natural world, "Tingatinga School" paintings must be an art form born of necessity. The paintings have that much "magic" in them.

Full text: K. Shiraishi et F. Yamamoto (1990), Tingatinga, Kodansha, p110-113


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