Tanzania: Trees Provided Shade for TaSUBa Students' Exhibition

By Iman Mani, 27 February 2013 Daily News, Tanzania


It's the second time in two years for freelance Berlin, Germany based Fine Artist Klaus Hartmann to visit the Bagamoyo Institute of Arts (TaSUBa) in Coast Region.

On both occasions he conducted a workshop, financed by the German Goethe Institut, with a number of the Performing Arts students there. As opposed to the first visit, this time round, he didn't just come with his own knowledge to share with the performing arts students.

He came with a large number of art books, which he had bought, from money contributed by the Rudolf Augstein Foundation, private galleries, institutions and publishing housing in Germany. The background to his action stems from his observations while on his first visit in Tanzania two years ago.

"In the library, at TaSUBa, I saw around two art books when I first came here. From having such few reference materials in the background is not good. I think it's not possible to study Fine Arts without inspiration from other artistes, art history and contemporary art," he told the 'Daily News' late on Friday afternoon, while on a visit to the institute for the closing of the workshop with an art exhibition and some music and dance performances.

There are books on European art history, together with those about the Swahili Coast, such as Islamic book illustrations. There are also those on art in India, especially contemporary art from the sub-continent and some about African artistes from other countries on the continent.

According to Hartmann, the workshop was based on an idea he had for the students to work with the books so that they can be inspired to produce works that reveal a wider prospective of their own art. One of the students who participated in this workshop, is Ahmed Seif Khaled. Before attending the two-week training, this artist was used to produce artworks, such as maps of Africa made from shells he had collected at the side of Lake Victoria in Mwanza Region.

These, together with his other artworks in a common mode, were directly aiming at the tourists market. This attitude did not please Hartmann, who believes "real and good art" can only be created when the artistes are inspired by others, together with what is around them. Such standard of work he maintains cannot come from making your main priority to produce art specifically for selling.

He maintains that "no artistes can produce their best works" this way. According to the German professional Fine Artist, the work Ahmed produced for the exhibition is living proof of his belief. It was after being inspired by things he had learnt in a book on Islamic Illustrations that Ahmed's art took a new direction, Hartmann pointed out in the conversation. Ahmed, a second year student, also made mention of this when asked by the 'Daily News' what he got from the workshop.

In fact, he said that at first he was not keen on the idea of going through books before producing his artworks, but this view soon changed. Now that he has seen the benefit he gets, as an artist from browsing through art books, which help develop and expand his ideas, he is better able to produce vibrant, refreshing original artworks. The new challenge that he is faced with now, is finding new ways to market these works, which has got him singing a different song.

"Once a person can maintain their artistic individuality, being inspired by other artistes becomes a good thing. The important thing to remember is to keep what is essentially and uniquely yours," Ahmed stated. At the exhibition on Friday there were four sculptures of his that were made with sawdust, wire, glue and pieces of clothe. One of these depicted a flying dragon clutching a leopard with its claws.

This piece he called "Fairness." He said it took him eight hours a day to do over two days, after he had got the idea. On Friday, he talked about being better equipped to conduct his business ventures under his registered company called Seif Handicrafts, with a backing of more original artworks. He is also pleased to have enrolled on a syllabus that was changed in 2012, to include music, dance, drama, stage technology and the visual arts.

Now he can draw someone dancing with a lot more meaning simply because he has a greater understanding of both the dance steps and painting requirements from a practical point of view. His colleague, John Mathias Mhando, told the 'Daily News' he likes the opportunity gained on this workshop to be more exposed to the various styles within art by the use of books.

This for John allows him a lot more freedom and a wider area to work in, being someone, who likes dabbling in more than one style of painting. Prior to this course he had no knowledge of contemporary art, so now feels the world is truly his oyster to explore. One of the female colleagues on the workshop, Nyanzobe Martha Masanja, who has the desire to continue with her work in drama to an international level, is also pleased for the chance to improve her understanding of the fine arts.

She told the 'Daily News' that prior to attending this workshop she knew how to draw and paint only to an extent. Now that she has gone through art books her horizon has expanded to include painting from her head, instead of depending on something that she can see in front of her at the time. A bonus she got was learning of a better way to use colours.

Before leaving Hartmann it was interesting to hear why he had chosen to have the exhibition in the open grounds, near the entrance, performing arts department and the refreshment area. This, he maintains was simply because there is not an exhibition hall on campus, so he looked for the next best place to put it.

The fact that there was no exhibition hall surprised him very much because in his country students make exhibitions every year, in a place specially designated for this purpose. This, he says just shows how limited the provisions are for local artistes, even when studying at a reputable institution, as TaSUBa. All-the-same, one of the students teacher's at the institute, Frank Sika, told the 'Daily News' that he was extremely pleased to see the change in the work they started to produced after having gone through the two-week workshop.