Finding and buying art in Zanzibar can be tedious. Some new (and established) art outlets are set to improve quality.
It was full house when the Emerson on Hurumzi Hotel recently embarked on its biggest art exhibition ever with 35 local artists. 80 artworks – by Dallah Wise, Mmadi Ausiy, Y. Kola, the shy pen & ink drawings by Abdu Haji Ussa and many more - were presented in the elegant 19th century building restored to old glory by the late Emersion Skeens. Eye-catcher was certainly the dramatic “Bye Bye House of Wonders, 2021” by Mmadi Ausiy, depicting Zanzibar’s premier monument being swept away in a tsunami – an apt interpretation of real events. The House of Wonder had collapsed last Christmas after decades of deterioration. The monochrome work, almost a satirical cartoon, sold for 800 dollars to a buyer from New York, still a far cry from commercial heights reached by African bestsellers on the international market - but a start.
African Art still has a long way to go. It was therefore the much-welcomed intention of the Emerson exhibition “to provide buyers with a one-stop overview of artists and existing trends'', said Director Len Horlin. Also a new Emerson's Zanzibar Foundation Art Award was launched; the first recipient was Hamza Ausiy for his painting 'Sokoni'. About 40 per cent of the art, curated by Russian artist Luba Roshchyna, found buyers, a quite high ratio. Roshchyna had intensely prepared the show with artists’ workshops and lectures, visibly enhancing quality. Emerson director Len Horlin announced follow-up shows: “We are planning to start a permanent online collection of Zanzibar art to make it more accessible.”
African Art Auction
Another entirely new platform for the collectors market as well as first-time art buyers will be the anticipated first Zanzibar Art Auction planned for 11 December by the Forster Gallery in Mbweni. Around 20 paintings by artists mainly from East and South Africa will be on sale. The event will be held simultaneously at the Zanzibar Serena Hotel and online – a rare opportunity to view, and bid on some fine African art pieces in a local context.
Tinga Tinga in Stone Town
Tinga-Tinga originals – very much sought after - can still be found at recently renamed Wasanii Art behind the Old Fort on Gizenga Street. Managing Director Anita Sitta exhibits statues and paintings of the graffiti-like Tanzanian art genre started by Edward Said Tinga-Tinga, as well as work of George and Hendrick Lilanga. Proof or originality is important with Tinga Tinga. – Up the same Gizenga Street, established Zanzibar artist Bayuu runs his own gallery.. Bayuu is known for Stone Town scenes in psychedelic colours and has recently created watercolour labels for natural ZALT company from Pemba. – Less known, and hidden in a clothes shop on Hurumzi Street, are the Bulugu brothers of Dr. Bulugu Gallery - here’s some raw talent to be spotted.
The House of Wonder swept away by a tsunami – an artistic satire of tragic realities. Painting by Zanzibar artist Mmadi Ausiy, 49.
African Art, famous and less famous: Mickey-Mouse-like Lilanga statues (left); two works by the Bulugu brothers from Zanzibar (right), all spotted on Gizenga Street