Talking about arts and crafts in Dar es salaam, Tanzania

Jonston Weston, Dar es Salaam Community Manager
Dar es Salaam, 17 August 2016

Tanzania has a long tradition of creating imaginative and thought-provoking art. Artwork is a way that the country preserves it's heritage and shares the unique qualities of the culture, history, and environment of Tanzania. Tanzanian art culture is a diverse mix of influences with over 120 tribes which includes Makonde tribal carving, Tinga Tinga paintings, and Zanzibar carved doors and many others. Art in Tanzania is also important part of the country's national identity, and in that sense it's connected to the everyday world of regular people here.

Art has been an integral program in many facets of the country's culture and there is a priority on developing and nurturing the artistic, musical, and design activities by local governments in Tanzania. It is based on reality that the Tanzanian schools commonly do not teach arts due to the lack of resources, including as teachers and teaching materials. Most of the artistic activities are therefore based on tribal traditions at the family level, noticing individual talents. An example includes the Makonde tribe, originally based in the South of Tanzania, which has been creating meaningful, spiritual carvings based around their tradition, family and tribal culture, and the belief system. Originally, there were carvings of masks, musical instruments, and simple figures. Commonly we now see complex carvings of figures supporting each other in a family, tribal, or ‘socialist’ structure. Also Zanzibar doors based in Stone Townare were traditionally symbols of status and wealth. Carved in a range of woods including mahogany, the intricate designs have Indian and Islamic influences and are now found more widely.

Art In Tanzania is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that started in 2001 and is tasked to support local artists who do not have the resources to fully develop their talent. Over the past decade and a half, the organization has grown and now runs more than 300 volunteering and internship placements in Tanzania via the record label, Mzuka Records and a yearly magazine that targets Tanzanian youth. Art in Tanzania welcomes volunteers and interns to participate in community projects and also organizes adventure programs such as safaris and Mount Kilimanjaro climbs.

Dar Es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest and most influential city and has produced countless talented artists, especially those who paint in the style of traditional African hut paintings. This technique was made famous by Edward Saidi Tingatinga, an artist of the 1950s and 1960s who made the style popular. The very well-known hub is Nyumbaya Sanaa (Nyerere Cultural Centre). At Nyumbaya Sanaa not only can a visitor buy art, but she can also witness art being created. This unique place is also the site of a fish market in the mornings. Snacks and beverages can be purchased and enjoyed as you watch the artists at work.

Another key piece of the art landscape is Tanzania Village Museum which is a wonderful place to experience what an African village is like. Native villagers from all over Tanzania have built reconstructions or models of their own dwellings: all in one place. On weekends, tribal dances are performed. There’s also a garden and museum shop worth investigating.

Many people use these places for recreation, especially during the weekends, and they also serve as meeting points for the people. They have been a source of employment to youth and adults of Dar es Salaam. Initiatives like these keep art and artists both accessible and able to practice their invaluable skils.

Photo: Jonston Weston

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