Zanzibar Intricacy Paintings by East African Artist, Avni Shah

 “Zanzibar Intricacy”



The little Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar is an exotic melting pot of African, Arabic and Indian cultures. I was particularly inspired by this door as it had sophisticated and elaborate carvings on it.

Such doors line the streets of this island. In the 1980s the Stone Town had 800 historical doors, but the numbers have since reduced owing to lack of renovation and eager international collectors willing to pay a hefty price. Time stands still in the Stone Town – it is like a window to the past.
This door has the Arabic inspired intricate carvings, and the Indian inspired spikes. The “barazas” or benches on each side are a focal point community life. Almost all traditional Swahili homes have these.

This massive teak or mahogany structure grace the fronts of almost all buildings of note. The names of the owners are usually inscribed at the top of the door.

The doorway consists of a centre post and two separate doors on both sides. Wave-like patterns and ropes allude to the seaborn trade. Chain-like designs are said to protect the building from evil spirits. Vines refer to the spice trade. Indian lotus flowers are emblems of prosperity.
Follow me, as I take you to Zanzibar through art!


Dala Dalas are shared minibuses popularly used to get about and around in Zanzibar and other East African coastal towns. The name Dala is a connotes Dollar. The original Dala Dalas are open trucks fitted with benches, frames and a roof. The natural aeration makes them ideal for humid and hot weather of the coastal towns. They are an attraction in themselves with their bright exteriors painted in set designs and colours to indicate their route. The conductor, known as “mpiga-ndebe”, will hit the sides and roof of the vehicle to attract customers and notify the driver when to stop and when to move.

They provide the public with cheap and convenient privately owned transport. They are crowded but have a very charming and friendly atmosphere with conversations ranging from music to football, fishing and a lot more. They will stop anywhere and everywhere to drop and pick passengers in the traffic filled roads.



The warm salty waters of the ocean glow bright turquoise in the morning light. As the tide begins to ebb, a small army of women in the multi-coloured “kangas”, armed with sticks and spears wade across the coastal flats in search for one of the finest seafood delicacies (the “pweza” [octopus]). The women of the Swahili coast and neighbouring shorelines have traditionally fished octopus using the same techniques their mothers and grandmothers used.

Their skilful hunting depends on the movement of the tide, changes in weather, needs of their families and demands of the local societies in which they live. During a single low tide, an experienced octopus hunter can spear more than ten of these amid the maze of rocks, corals and seaweed that lie just beyond the beach.



Young girls in colourful dresses walk out to sea at low tide with an array of containers. They will collect seashells, seaweed, scallops, soles, and other marine critters which they can catch with their own hands while waiting for the fishermen to turn back from today’s catch. The seashore and sea are truly their oyster.



A cheerful painting featuring a classic fishing boat known as the “kazinaswla”. Stark colours of the sky and sea are a contrast against the dark wood and texture of the boat. Dhows and traditional fishing boats like the “kazinaswla” are still built in the same way they have been for hundreds of years, using no mechanical or electrical tools. During season time, they either ferry tourists or engage in fishing. The daily life of people is closely connected to the tidal cycle of the Indian Ocean. But the sand, on the other hand, is the axis of all island life here. The dhows and boats rest on the sand before heading to sea and men bring ashore their daily catch.



Zanzibar is not only about seeing a few sites or doing a few things. It is discovering its people and feeling what it really means to live in this tropical paradise.

We stay in the Stone Town so as to experience life as the Zanzibaris and to maximise on the connection with this island.
These are typical Swahili family homes. The Swahili mainly reside on the East Coast of Africa. Several generations still live under the same roof. This strict family focus is an integral part of Swahili culture.

Extensive weathering of the limestone can be seen on the outer walls of these homes due to the humid climate.
Faded colonial buildings rub shoulders with the vibrancy of Arabic and Indian influences architectural influences.





Contact Avni on or call +254 734 973207 if interested in any of the paintings above or to place your custom orders 




Avni is a leading, multi-disciplinary Kenyan artist whose works depicting East Africa will surprise and also delight you with details and a happy colour palette which are the hallmarks in her work. She brings both realism as well impressionism to the scene.

She embarked on her art career after her “O” levels. She attained a Teachers Training Diploma in Art Education from the famous Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai. She has done many solo and group exhibitions and two in Germany. Her first mentor Keith Harrington inspired her to capture in her paintings what was old before it gave way to the new resulting in exhibitions titled “Mombasa Old Town”, “Opening Doors To Lamu”, “Scenes Of Kenya”. Some of her latest exhibitions include “Shifting Panoramas”, held at the Village Market in September 2019 and “Across East Africa”, held at the UNON in March 2020. She also took part in FOTA at the ISK in November 2019.

She has worked with world renowned architectural mosaic artist Jim Anderson on broken tile mosaics which are displayed at the local hospitals and one in Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, UK.

Some of the highlights of her career have been “Unusual Friends” and “Wonder of the World” depicting adoption of oryx baby by a lioness in Samburu hang at the Mayor of Berlin’s Parlour and the Kenyan Embassy in Berlin respectively. “At the Water’s Edge” was presented to honourable Charles Njonjo at the relaunch of the Yellow Pages Directory.



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