We meet Muzu in the lobby of the Kilimanjaro Kempinski Hotel where there is an exhibition of his work. “I mostly paint the people and scenes of Zanzibar, where I was born and raised,” Muzu, who has been working as an artist for 20 years, says. “The Tanzanian art scene is dominated by Tingatinga art: vibrant, colourful tableaux of cartoon-like animals and figures made with bicycle paint on canvas.”
The style takes its name from the artist Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga who was born in southern Tanzania in the 1930s and moved to Dar es Salaam at the age of 16. “If you want, I can take you to a Tingatinga art centre where you can meet some artists and see them at work,” Muzu proposes. Fifteen minutes later we’re sitting in a taxi heading to the Oysterbay area.
The art centre consists of a series of stands and corrugated metal sheds, selling a mixture of crafts, original art and some touristy stuff. The Tingatinga ‘studio’ lies at the back of the market in a ramshackle building where about 25 painters are working behind their easles or on the ground. We walk around, shaking hands and are welcomed with a chorus of “Jambo!, Karibu!” – ‘good day’ and ‘welcome’ in Kiswahili.
Some of the Tingatinga artists are creating new works and applying new ideas. The other painters then copy the masterpiece, especially if the painting has been sold. As we stroll around, we stumble upon a painting which represents a school of sardines swimming in a tight circle. That would be a great acquisition for our art collection!
“It’s 50,000 shillings, but I can make you a good price,” the artist says.
“50,000? Well I don’t like it that much,” I lie, and put the painting back.
The bargaining begins: “How much do you want to pay?”
“But it’s worth at least 40,000, I worked on it for two weeks!”
“It’s not my fault that you work so slowly, I’ll give you 10,000.”
“I really like you, I can give it to you for 30,000.”
“I like you too my friend, I’ll give 20,000.”
“Let’s make it 25,000, so we’re both happy.”
“Deal!” I say, as I give him a Tanzanian three-step handshake.
Then I hand over the full 50,000 he originally asked for and say: “On second thought, I think it’s worth 50 after all!”