Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Zanzibar artists fight for tourist cash

Tourism is now Zanzibar's biggest industry - easily outstripping the trade in spices, traditionally the Tanzanian island's biggest foreign currency earner.

But local artists complain that they are not able to reap the rewards from the tourist boom.

They say that most of the art on sale is mass produced and has little relevance to the island's culture.

The so-called "tourist art" is ruining their livelihood, they claim.

'Commercial artist'

Saidi Omary, 24, paints up to 15 pieces of "tourist art" a week.

"I am a commercial artist, I paint what is marketable," he said.

"I do create original works but they don't sell quickly which is bad because I need the money."

Despite the thriving tourism industry, the island is still very poor.

The average wage is just 60 US cents a day and it is not surprising that artists are turning out effortless reproductions that they can sell for a few dollars.

But some artists working in Zanzibar deplore this commercial approach to art.

Artist Hamza Ausiy is dismissive of "tourist art" and says it is ruining his business.

"For me tourist art is boring and confusing, because if you are an artist, you have a dream and creativity but if you do this sort of work you are always looking for bread," he said.

He says his canvases - which cost $200 or more - are all original artworks and feature exclusively Zanzibari scenes.

Artists selling the original works have now got together to form an association to promote their work.

Musa Ramadhan is secretary of the Zanzibar Young Artists Association.

He says artists should be selling to the local market, even if their volumes are small.

"We need to create awareness among the local people to make them like our art and even hang our works in their homes," Mr Ramadhan said.

He says artists in Zanzibar need to change and create ideas from their culture.

"People on this island like religion we should put religion in our pictures," Mr Ramadhan recommends.

For the time being though, the art market in Zanzibar is driven by the hoards of artists selling mass-produced art.


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