LEISURE: Legends of Tanzanian art on show

Wednesday January 15 2020

A painting by Coster and Hendry Lilanga.

A painting by Coster and Hendry Lilanga. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG 

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An eclectic collection of works by Tanzanian artists is on display at the Pioneer room of the historic Nairobi Gallery at the National Museums of Kenya. It presents the diverse talent of Tanzania and some of the country’s earliest contemporary artists.

Titled Legendary Artists of Tanzania, the exhibition is curated by art aficionado Alan Donovan who has put on several shows of veteran East Africans in the past. This is the second part of a display of Tanzanian art, following the Tinga Tinga exhibition earlier in 2019.

The oil painting African Pride by Elias Jengo, a former professor at Dar es Salaam University, is enticing. A face, a breast, and nondescript items fill the semi abstract illustration painted with warm shades of yellow, bronze and burnt red.

Hendry Lilanga and his son Coster have together painted a brightly coloured mythical scene of huts, palm trees, smoking pipes, ogres with fish tails and snakes with feet.

From Cloud Chantanda, a master in realism, is the painting Umoja, showing a group of people desperately trying to save a sinking ship in stormy seas.

Panic, angst and frenzied action gush out of this captivating scene that is an allegory for a nation on the wrong course.


Another realism piece is Bao Game by Muzu Suleiman, depicting the wooden board game played across the region.

In addition to paintings are are Makonde sculptures made of ebony. Makonde is an old art form from southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

Intricate figures and animals have been carved from a single piece of wood. They were created in the 1970s, but Makonde remains one of the most unique styles to come out of East Africa.

The Makonde sculptures belong to the Murumbi Collection and are not for sale. However, for Ksh1 million ($10,000), one can purchase an original painting by the late Edward Saidi who started the Tinga Tinga art movement in the late 1960s, one of the best known art styles from Tanzania.

There are works by Valentino Saudi, Agustino Malaba, and Robino Ntila who has a selection of woodcut prints and oil paintings.

Saudi, Malaba and Ntila all passed through Nyumba ya Sanaa art centre in Dar es Salaam. It was started by American missionary Jean Pruitt, who actively supported the growth of Tanzanian art talent in the 1970s. Legendary Artists continues until the end of this month.