Tanzania: Fine Artists Answer Call As Women Elbow for Space

The fine art scene in Tanzania has traditionally been male-dominated but it is changing.

An ongoing exhibition titled Women in art showcase highlights the works of talented women fine artists in the country. They are standing on the shoulders of artists like Poni Yengi, Mwandale Mwanyekwa, Safina Kimbokota, Veronique Laurent, Sharifa Juma and Rehema Chachage.

A social media call for entries received artworks from over 50 women artists in three weeks, with the majority coming from Dar es Salaam and others from Arusha, Zanzibar, Tanga and Mwanza. In the end, 27 artists made the cut for the exhibition that was launched on June 27.

Veterans and newbies

The venue was the open garden at the seaside residence of the ambassador of Belgium to Tanzania.

The works on show included photographs and sculptures.

"I have been in the industry for the past five years, and it was interesting to spot new names. I was pleased to meet new people in the field," said Asteria Malinzi, the head curator for the exhibition.

The question whether there's a significant number of female fine artists in the country is now rhetorical.

Veteran Poni Yengi, who has been in the scene on and off since the 90s, presented her signature style of creating canvas that revamps papier mâché with linen threads, highlighting small stick like figures that end up looking dynamic in their resolute simplicity.

Public recognition

Rising stars like Hedwiga Tairo showed her piece grand feeling of a young woman in high heels, showing good use of contrast despite working in a subdued colour wheel, delivering very mature texture.

"We are so grateful that today we could host so many women in the Tanzanian art world, we know that it's not easy but with platforms like this gives you a chance to showcase yourself. I want to give a shout out to all the men because without you it's very difficult for us ladies to break patriarchy."

The exhibition was organised by the wife of the ambassador of Belgium to Tanzania Astrid Belliot, and in her welcoming speech urged the female fine artists to come out so that they can be recognised for their work.

She also acknowledged the role of male fine artists -- Haji Chilonga, Evarist Chikawe and Lutengano Mwakisopile -- who have mentored some of the women. They were welcomed to showcase a few of their pieces.

The youngest artist at the exhibition, Reena Davis, 19, presented Mother & Child, a piece she created in one week. She learnt her craft in secondary school,

Aishi Mengi, a first time exhibitor, showcased quality photographs.

Safina Kimbokota, a sculptor, showed a mix of scrap metal sculptures and printed fabric proving her skill in the art.

Bonding

Most artists I spoke with were glad to meet up with many other women practicing their art freely and were glad to they took part in the exhibition and hope to achieve even more when they collaborate.

Poni Yengi and Reena Davis were grateful to the male fine artists who have mentored them like Ras Thobia, Omary Bampango and Walter Lema.

The Women in art showcase is currently showing at Rangi Gallery offices in Msasani, Dar es Salaam.

The pieces are also on sale ranging from $70 to $2,500, with most of them eventually snapped up for just under $400.

Rangi Gallery will be formally opened in August under the curator Asteria Malinzi.

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