Paintings from the African wildlife

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Samina Juzer Sachak with one of her wildlife paintings

Published in thecitizen.co.tz - July 3rd 2016

By Tasneem Hassanali

Mrs Samina Sachak recently displayed her stunning wildlife paintings at Mumbai's prestigious Jehangir Art Gallery. This is her story.

Journey into the mind of a female wildlife artist

In Summary

Samina grew up watching her late mother tailor together pieces of cloth into fine clothing, of what she recalls, our very own personal designer, which is what they used to call her.

Her hair is tucked in a messy bun with specks of paint on her arm and clothes from last night in her living room cum studio, where she worked until 2 am. Samina Sachak, 47, resides in the quiet old coastal Tanzanian town of Tanga, where she finds the peace and inspiration to paint.

The room is filled with varied sizes of canvases glued on pieces of wood. Some canvases have a pencilled outline while others have her imagination coming to life through colours. Across the room, there is a huge piece of mirror, which depicts the life of a Masai woman sketched using different colours of acrylic.

"I do art on different mediums such as glass, canvas and cloth using water colours, oil pastels and acrylic. Though, I enjoy working with acrylic as it brings out my imagination and the right interpretation of my subjects, such as the wild," Samina explained her forte.

Samina is part of the Tanga Women Artists' Network, and was among the 14 women artists who toured the United States drawing inspiration from different major art galleries and artists, a trip that she says helped her redefine the importance of art.

Art as my life

Samina's journey as an artist began in the late 1980's when feminist art movement began to emerge in Africa as a way to influence cultural attitudes and transform stereotypes. In those days, she was employed as an accountant at the Hindu Mandal Dispensary in Tanga. Though she used to love talking about art, her talent within was never explored.

Dr Azim Sukharwalla, who also worked at the dispensary, took notice of Samina's love for art. He was an artist himself. "I was given a painting board, some brushes and paints by Dr Azim in 1988 and all he said was, Samina you can paint," Samina recalls. "I neither knew how to do a perfect stroke nor clean the brushes, in fact, I remember I was embarrassed to hand over the brushes I had spoiled back to Dr Azim," she adds.

Samina's first painting reflected a landscape that had a forest set amidst a lake. "It did not take a long time to immediately bond with painting and pursue art as a self-taught artist. The interest developed after I completed my first painting, I realised that art gave me a new meaning to life, it inspired me and gave me a sense of accomplishment. It was just being me," Samina explains what art means to her.

"I began visiting few galleries across the country to meet the present artists who did different forms of art, from Tingatinga to contemporary art, to learn and grow," she adds.

Samina grew up watching her late mother tailor together pieces of cloth into fine clothing, of what she recalls, our very own personal designer, which is what they used to call her.

"My mother was an influential person in my life. I grew up seeing her do all sorts of handwork pieces of art such as home items to our clothes. I can say, she was a well-dressed woman, well spoken, an artist, she is my icon," says Samina who believes she is her mother's reflection.

A perpetual struggle

28 years, and Samina calls herself a struggling artist in Tanzania. For Samina, art is not merely a piece of aesthetic admiration, but it is a possibility of changing the perception towards women artists and to incite a change towards equality.

"Way before the concept of feminism was modernised, my struggle explained to me that a majority of women artists were denied exhibitions and display of their work at few galleries based on the sole fact of their gender.

With my art pieces, especially the creatures of the wild, I want to advocate a change to promote women artists' visibility within the art world, especially in Tanzania," she explains.

According to Samina, Tanzanians need to embrace the fact that art plays an important role towards preserving the country's heritage.

"Looking at the current situation of the Makonde artists and their fading phase, it is shameful for the Tanzanian government to be quiet about it. Why is it that only the music industry is glamourised as art in this country?" questions Samina.

She continues, "In fact art is no longer encouraged as a subject that children should take in schools nowadays, especially in the government schools, perhaps only few private schools have fine art classes."

Samina's career path was fraught with difficulties. "To conduct an art exhibition is costly, especially for an upcoming artist. Also, we often don't see or hear art fairs organised for women artists and carvers to display their work and to motivate them. I think this is one of the reasons I have not gone commercial," Samina explains why she has been in seclusion.

"It has definitely been an uphill struggle because a piece of painting is not valued by community within. The reason is because art as a strong form of expression has not been embedded in us since childhood," Samina explains that to make a survival out of art only is difficult in Tanzania.

"We should not limit ourselves to paint. We should create pieces of expression through colours as only a hobby. We need to explore, find ways to exhibit and keep pushing limits for opportunities," Samina advises today's youth.

For Samina, it has also been a struggle to juggle art with raising a family.

"Family and raising my two girls has been a priority, in fact, it is for all the women given in any professional field. My husband and my two beautiful daughters did not let me give up on my dream and because of their support, I have pulled myself together to continue to be an artist, and hopefully not just a struggling one."