9 October 2010

Tanzania: Art Knows No Gender

Dar Es Salaam — CURRENTLY there are only two women majoring in music out of 10 students at the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. This is within the University of Dar es Salaam, popularly known as the 'Hill.' In the music faculty there, which has seven teachers, there is only one lady, who was employed this year.

In regards to this the Department's Senior Lecturer of Music, Dr Imani Sanga, tells the 'Star' this goes back to the cultural background of the people who make the surrounding community. He adds the fact is, in many societies issues that have to do with public space are mostly dealt with by men.

It is only in popular music that there can be seen some changes. Still, these consist of women being mainly involved with singing and dancing. This is opposed to them playing instruments, which need more time and training to master. Added to this he believes there is the perception that men have more intelligence to encage in complex issues.

Therefore, when a woman decides to take-on something, which is thought to be difficult, it's misconstrued as encaging in 'men's territory.' That's why some fields are considered to be men's while others women. "I think this is not right and that an institution like this one can help to change this imbalance.

We should make sure all students get the same opportunity to get the education available and to be involved in performances," he professes. "Even in those areas that are considered to be for men, you put a woman there and if she can play the role satisfactorily, this will help for people to start changing their attitude.

Even a woman can play a keyboard. Even a woman can play a trombone," he says referring to some of the functions in his faculty. According to Dr Sanga one only have to look around the FPA Department there to see a number of examples where students were taken on their ability only, irrespective of gender, to get a clear and living picture of this reality. One such example, he adds, is one of their Assistant Lecturer, Dinah Enock.

Had it not been for the support given to her by the then Head of the Department, Dr Agustine Hatar, she might have given-up fine arts many years ago. Now, not only has she been able to make many strides in this area of the visual arts, she is currently finishing a PhD programme through the sponsorship of NORAD Staff Development at the university, which she started three years ago.

This is three years after she had completed her Masters in Fine Arts there. She has been an assistant lecturer since 2005. She told the 'Star' that she has chosen to research on the Makonde ethnic group's stylistic revolution. According to her their traditional styles are 'Mjamaa,' 'Mawingi,' 'Binadamu' and 'Shetani.' These are the popular common styles today.

However, there are the 'Kimbulumbulu,' 'Giligia,' 'Mandandosa' and 'Tumbatumba' modes, which are the new modern ones, that are slowly gaining popularity within the community. When this is completed it will be available for all other artists to use. This will go towards the improvement of local art. But it must not be forgotten, had she been looked at, as not being able to perform because of her gender, none of this would have happened.

As a little girl Dinah Enock always liked painting and playing with her dolls, for which she would make dresses while at primary school. At secondary school there was none of this and the only place she got a chance to draw was in subjects like biology and geography. Then she went to Teacher Training College followed by her year's military stint and after a year's teaching, she applied and was successful in being admitted on a two-year certificate in Fine Arts.

Although the only lady in the class she turned out the best. Again after one year teaching she applied to do her Bachelor's of Arts degree at the UDSM and was successful. During the second year, which was in 2000, students had a subject called 'Introduction to Sculpture,' in which they were supposed to produce three pieces of sculpture for assessment.

"I planned making what I called the 'FPA Sculpture', as one of my three contributions. This was to reflect the activities of the department, so as to help breakdown the barriers of ignorance present among other students at the university, in reference to the department," she explains. Her original model of this sculpture was used for assessment but not before Dr Hatar was impressed so greatly that he asked her to reproduce another life-size one with cement, to be placed outside the main entrance of the Department.

During her third year in 2001, she made this statue. She explained that the three letters refer to the initials of the Department's name, which are 'F' for fine, 'A' for arts and 'P' for performing. She made a woman's figure simply because she felt more comfortable with it. There is also the fact that she was trying to show that even women in the department can produce acknowledgeable art works.

"At the time when I was making this sculpture, I was conscious that I was putting out a challenge to those who believe Art; especially Fine Arts, was exclusively the preserved domain of men," she adds. Given her own struggle and accomplishments it's not surprising to hear her say she would like to see more women taking up careers within the Arts. She believes they are many, who are talented in this area but are keeping themselves out of it because they wrongly see it as being the realms of men only.

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