The mandara brothers breathing life into art

Friday May 21 2021
Mandara pic
By Lilian Ndilwa

Have you ever seen an animation that can be brought to life and get back to its animated state with just a connection between a phone and a painted picture?

Well, the two brothers, Shalua Mandara - a software technician - and Ngaira Mandara, an illustrator who, through Augmented Reality, made this experience possible.

Augmented Reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information.

Nyota, a young girl I met at the exhibition, was racing towards the AR exhibition very excited to witness Art meeting Technology.

Behind her walking slowly was her father, mother and brother who had tagged along to see one of the first exhibitions in which art and technology have been put on one plate.

About 17 illustrations were placed on the wall, with nine of them leading the whole exhibition as they were the ones connected to the AR experience - and had explanations drafted under them.


The Mandara brothers illustrated activities most common within Dar es Salaam streets in motion pictures such an incredible experience.

The nine animations included the Askari Monument, a brass band in a car, a woman carrying as basin with bananas on top of her head, a person sharpening knives, a fisherman pulling a boat, Daladala, Bodaboda, a person sweeping and people playing board games.

Complementing the exhibition room was ‘The Street of Dar es Salaam’ merchandise such as T-shirts, phone cases and bottles, as well as eye catching macramé hung on the walls.

Shalua gave us a tour from one art to another

On his side, Ngaira is an illustrator and animator with Bachelor’s degree in International Business Administration concentrating in finance which he pursued at the United States International University (USIU) which is opposite of his artistic talent.

However, he says the varsity degree has somewhat advanced his way of illustrating arts from a business perspective.

He fell in love with art from when he and Shalua were only primary school pupils at Hekima Waldorf School back in 2007. He says their Arts teacher would tell them a story - and ask them to paint something based on that story.

From that time, Ngaira has never stopped drawing since. As he kept growing in art, he has been inspired by other artists, including Masoud Kipanya, Masoud Kibwana and artists at the Nafasi Art Space.

In the year 2017, Ngaira decided to make his art a full time career, a decision he made after multiple tries in business ventures.

He has since then started drawing in accordance to personal experience, and things surrounding him.

Shalua studied Software Engineering at the University of Dar s Salaam (UDSM). His love for Art was unmatched with Ngaira’s. Growing up watching cartoons and playing games, he developed the desire to bring things to life.

He later on diverged from software to photography and graphics as the two professions complement one another.

The idea of AR exhibition came during the time when the coronavirus pandemic hit the world last year, Tanzania included.

“This idea came up during the time when almost all countries globally were under lockdowns, and it was during that time when both of us were looking for something that would make our work stand out from those of other artists,” Shalua says.

Despite Tanzania not being under lockdown, the two decided to quarantine and use the time to sharpen their skills in both soft engineer and illustration.

“As we were working on our first project, we decided to test the audience reaction on our works and share the excitement we got when we first got the interaction between technology and art right.

We posted up on social media the reactions motivated us to work further on them, people kept complimenting and asking ‘how do we bring the animations to life’,” says Shalua.

The two then decided to choose among Ngaira’s artworks from 2018 and perform the AR experience on them.

People are used to seeing art in frames, or just drafted on painting sheets. These two decided to enhance a way to change that narrative - and bring about a whole new experience.

In their collection of pictures that can be connected with the AR technology, the pictures dictate people and things in Dar es Salaam city, and they are meant to act as a souvenir to people who have once visited the city or people who want a different taste of art.

“We wanted people looking at these pictures and not questioning ‘what led to this animation,’ or ‘what was happening,’ because those questions can be answered through this technology,” says Ngaira.

The two brothers have created several filters that are stored in Facebook Clouds in Instagram apps on the page titled ‘The Streets of Dar es Salaam’. When these filters become connected to the particular animations, they resonate as they breathe life into the photo...

“The whole process was not as easy as we first perceived it, because it took a while to really perfect the integration between art and technology. Another challenge we faced was the lack of several features related to animations in Instagram that have luckily been introduced this year,” says Shalua.