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August 29, 2012



by Erin Wilkinson Hartung

I met several African artists on Zanzibar each with a different story to tell. There are painters, sketch artists, and even one who creates post cards from natural fiber paper. Some work in small studios in Stone Town producing colorful animal paintings for tourists; others specialize in reproductions of old buildings, ruins and beaches. It is difficult to be a successful artist on Zanzibar but here are some extraordinary examples.

Photo by Christiane Thompson

John Da Silva, famous artist has made it his mission to save old Zanzibar buildings. He draws, sketches and gives lectures on the architectural history of Zanzibar and collects old post cards of Stone Town. He spends hours trying to archive these works for museums and future generations along with displaying his drawings of buildings from a time that no longer exists. John is an artist who has become an historian. At seventy he is a force to be reckoned with and he tells a great story. 


Hamad Mbarouk Hamad runs the Cultural Arts Center in Stone Town. He paints, designs tee shirts, has a retail shop and supports the local art community. He gives drawing lessons and showcases young artists. He is proficient in many artistic mediums but prefers painting old doors. In Arab culture, front doors were quite ornate and made of heavy wood, embellished with medal studs and unique designs to represent the wealth of a family. There are historical tours in Stone Town that feature the more elaborate family doors. Hamad is an artist who has learned to be an entrepreneur by necessity.

This is my last blog post from in country. My Fulbright experience is ongoing but classes start up in the US next week. I have learned a lot about Tanzania, Swahili culture and doing business on Zanzibar. The people are what make this place special. I hope the small business owners I have worked with challenge the *status quo*. I will check in on them from time to time, give updates, and continue to tell their stories. What has been learned from people like John and Hamad becomes best practice models for future generations. The take away – what it means to be a successful small business owner in Africa. Kwa heri!!! (Goodbye in Swahili)

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 30 2012

    Thank you Erin for sharing your adventures and helping the entrepreneurs of Zanzibar. We all benefit from the lesons they have learned. I look forward to having you back on BlogTalkRadio to talk about what you have learned.


  2. Dec 10 2013

    have you met a creative art called KAM-AHSARI QURANIC ART,ITS A NEW ART IN ZANZIBAR,TANZANIA AND EVEN OTHER PARTS OF WORLD, but he only do his work in his home, ready do exbitions,lecturing ,even writing books concern art and whats so ever……………..,I think its an adventure too,,


  3. I read your blog with great interest. We work with some of the Zanzibar artists and run creative workshops in Zanzibar, so this was lovely to see. I’d love to see more about your follow-up to your visit to Zanzibar – maybe you have a report or you’ll be travelling this way soon?



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