'There is no such thing as a spirit in the stone!' - Misrepresentations of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture
An Anthropological Approach
- Art: Magisterarbeit
- Autor: Olga Sicilia
- Abgabedatum: Dezember 1998
- Umfang: 123 Seiten
- Dateigröße: 805,5 KB
- Note: 1,0
- Institution / Hochschule: Universität Wien Österreich
- Bibliografie: ca. 77
- ISBN (eBook): 978-3-8366-2906-5
ISBN (Paperback) :
- Sprache: Englisch
- Arbeit zitieren: Sicilia, Olga Dezember 1998: 'There is no such thing as a spirit in the stone!' - Misrepresentations of Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture, Hamburg: Diplomica Verlag
- Schlagworte: Art, Colonialism, Primitivism, Allochronic discourse, Cultural essentialism
Magisterarbeit von Olga Sicilia
The purpose of this thesis is to elaborate an approach to modern Zimbabwean stone sculpture - not from the perspective of aesthetics, but through a critical anthropological analysis of identity and representation. I do not set out from a category, for example „Zimbabwean sculptors”, but from the following problem: precisely those sculptors - i.e., a group of people, which I understand as a collective that shares common cultural traits but which is not for that reason necessarily homogeneous - are represented through a discourse that evokes their socio-cultural being in a way that does not correspond with the real context of their social practices. Hence the point of departure is a problematic disadjustment between the representations that are constructed through this discourse and the reality that it (mis)represents; in other words, the central problem approached here is how - and to a certain extent why - a specific social reality comes to be distorted. I have not rendered cult to any methodological monotheism in this undertaking; rather, I have ended up combining discourse analysis, open-ended interviews and ethnographic descriptions.
The present study is predominantly based on bibliographic material; it draws on sources obtained from the libraries of the World Art Studies Centre, at the University of East Anglia, U.K., the SOAS, London, and the National Gallery in Harare, Zimbabwe. However, this chiefly bibliographical aspect of research is also supported by three months of fieldwork in Zimbabwe, which I undertook from January to April of 1997.
Many aspects of this thesis, especially the more critical ones, are inspired by certain aspects in the thought of P. Bourdieu and of J. Fabian, although the analyses presented here do not pretend to go beyond an incipient stage of reflection on an issue that is common to both of them and which I will here denominate a critical constructivism. Fabian’s Time and the Other reveals how Anthropology has often presented its practices according to „positivist canons of ‘empirical observation’”, that is, as if it were engaged in a straightforward task of collecting and ordering a neutrally ‘given’ empirical material, whereas the central object that defined its endeavour, instead of being in any such way ‘given’, was in fact one that it strove from the very beginning to define or to construct, and in ideologically and politically relevant ways. According to Fabian, this object was ‘the Other’, and the technique by which it was constructed conformed to what he calls an „allochronic discourse”, i.e.: a science of other men in another Time. It is a discourse whose referent has been removed from the present of the speaking/writing subject. This „petrified relation” is a scandal. Anthropology’s Other is, ultimately, other people who are our contemporaries.
In the first chapter I will broach precisely the subject of „socio-historical circumstances” with an overview of the history of colonialism that led from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. Emphasis will be placed specifically on the social context of inequality and racial segregation, for it is essential to keep this in mind later on in the discussion of modern Zimbabwean sculpture. What I first confronted in our exchanges was not the sculptors’ ‘mythological world’, which is so often exalted in ‘Shona discourse’, but rather the ‘colonial memory’ - understood as an incorporated historical and social experience, etched in their bodies and lives, which they transmitted with a tremendous emotional charge and, in some occasions, emotional violence. I want to consider the accounts of colonial history in this study as ‘empirical data’. They should serve as evidence to back up my critiques, although I am aware that we are dealing here with pre-constructed data.
The second chapter will briefly describe the uses and meanings that the concept of the „primitive” has had in the history of anthropological theory, and then in the field of art and in art theory. Having analysed, in the first chapter, the history of colonialism in Zimbabwe, it is relevant to question in what ways anthropology was, and was not, involved in that history when it defined „primitive society” as its privileged field of study. For this purpose, I will draw on A. Kuper’s „The Invention of Primitive Society”, where he argues that this construction entailed a projection of Westerner’s own society, as they understood it. My approach to the concept of the primitive does not intend an exercise in theory, but rather seeks out the central argument and critique that I will elaborate. Passing from this short portrayal in anthropology over into the field of art, I will examine how this concept is configured there. The relevance of these analyses lies with the ‘Shona discourse’ which I will finally focus on in the third chapter. It entails a primitivist construction that is directly linked with modernist primitivism, which will be the last item to be discussed and will close the second chapter, in order to prepare the ground for the central arguments of this work that will be developed in the final part.
|1.||Colonialism - The Context of Social Inequality and Racial Segregation||6|
|1.1||In the Name of Civilisation: From the Settler Gold Rush and the Pioneer Invasions to the Founding of Southern Rhodesia||6|
|1.2||The Policies of the Federation||16|
|1.3||The UDI Terror||19|
|1.4||The Policy on Black Education||28|
|1.5||The Rhodesian Literature Bureau: Its Ambiguous Role as Mentor and Censor of Black Writers||35|
|1.6||English: From the Imperial Imposition of a Foreign Language to a Lingua Franca||37|
|1.7||Subordination and Sexual Enslavement||40|
|2.||Theories of the Primitive in Anthropology and Art||44|
|2.1||‘The Primitive’ in Anthropological Theory||44|
|2.1.1||A. Kuper: „The Persistence of an Illusion”||44|
|2.1.2||M. Strathern: Context and Representation||48|
|2.1.3||Diamond: The Primitive as Critique of Civilisation||50|
|2.2||‘The Primitive’: Art and Artefact||53|
|2.3||Primitivism vs.Modernist Primitivism||61|
|3.||Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture. Constructing the Primitive||71|
|3.2||The Awakening of the Primeval „Vital Forces”: The Workshop School||73|
|3.3||The Missionary Background||75|
|3.6||‘Shonaness’, Cultural Identity and ‘Shona Sculpture’||89|
|3.7||Inventing Africa? ‘Shona Sculpture’ and National Heritage in the Making of State and National Identity||102|
|3.8||J. Fabian: Allochronic Discourses and the Denial of Coevalness - the Uses of Time in Anthropological Discourse||108|
Chapter 3.6, ‘Shonaness’, Cultural Identity and ‘Shona Sculpture’:
‘Shona Sculpture’ is the term by which Zimbabwe sculpture has been known and promoted until well into the nineties, a name originally coined by McEwen. The term is intended to ascribe this sculpture to a single ethnic group, which is not only untrue at the present time, but was equally untrue in the late fifties. The sculptors, both then and now, have always come from different ethnic backgrounds (Ndebele, Yao from Malawi and others from Mozambique and Angola), although the majority are indeed Shona.
From the outset ‘Shona Sculpture’ was introduced in the international art arena as „authentic tribal art” at the first exhibition, held in 1971 at the Musée Rodin, in which myth, magic and African spirituality were overwhelmingly emphasised. McEwen’s conceptualisation of ‘Shona Sculpture’ as the rebirth of an ancient tradition manifests a consistent trend in the making of traditions. According to his notion of „the permanence of culture”, there is a direct link and continuity between the producers of the Zimbabwe birds, found at the archaeological site of Great Zimbabwe (circa 1350-1500), and the producers of ‘Shona Sculpture’; as if the Shona royal ancestors of the Monomotapa kingdom had awakened and revealed a secret, ancient tradition of stone carving, materialising in this way the present sculpture. As McEwen expressed it in 1991:
I’m a total believer in the permanence of culture. ... and that permanence of culture will come out if it has a chance. It had stopped in Rhodesia Zimbabwe, for several hundred years because they [the Shona] had been invaded. These gentle, spiritual, wonderful people, the Shona, highly mystical and religious, they had stopped carving, but of course, there had been sculpture in Rhodesia Zimbabwe four or five hundred years ago. There were these famous birds, the sacred eagle, the Chapungu, apparently placed all around the fort. By the permanence of culture they started it up again..
In the same vein, the curator of the exhibition at the Musée Rodin in 1971, P. Déscargues of France Culture, wrote: „The Shona sculptors appear to have picked up their tools where their ancestors of several hundred years before had laid them down”. Further, he concluded that the clear link between the stone monoliths at the archaeological site and contemporary ‘Shona sculpture’ was evidence of the „unchanging nature of Shona religion and society” and that the stylised soapstone birds (now the emblem of Zimbabwe) found in the impressive granite enclosure of Great Zimbabwe testified that the Shona had conserved their religious structure throughout the centuries.
For many of the ‘first generation’ sculptors, and for practically the entirety of the ‘second generation’, the term ‘Shona sculpture’ does not mean much in terms of some practice rooted in the past and invested with a Shona essence. As Mukomberanwa commented, „this sculpture was not invented by the whites, but what they saw, is that they could make money and they invented the commercial name ‘Shona’”.
And M.I. Arnold found new, imaginative hypotheses based on the pre-colonial Shona people:
The existence of the Zimbabwe birds, although they are few in number, suggests that at one point in the history of the Shona there was a social, political or religious need for sculpture. When the social and political structure of the early Shona peoples changed, as it did when the Karanga nation split in the fifteenth century, it is possible that the need for figurative sculpture atrophied or was eliminated.
The power of this discourse, even with its total disregard for the accuracy of its content, is patent; and it was continually reiterated until well into the eighties. Thus, David Wiley, Director of the African Studies Center at Michigan State University, wrote in an unpaged catalogue for an exhibition of Zimbabwe stone sculpture held at the Kresge Art Museum in 1985:
Totemic soapstone carvings of great birds and of animals in bas relief friezes as well as plates were produced in the 11th to 15th centuries at Great Zimbabwe, the capital of the Monomotapa Empire in Southern Zimbabwe. This tradition was lost in recent centuries and could not flourish under African societies disorganized by Cecil John Rhodes’s pioneer column and the settlers who followed it. In spite of these constraints, the tradition has been reborn through Tengenenge and other art colonies in Zimbabwe.
In the following I want to outline how certain discourses construct an Other —the producers of Zimbabwean stone sculpture in this case— through an image of the primitive. I want to make it clear that it is not my claim that Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture is some sort of primitivism —a neo-primitivism in fact— but rather that the discourse which is constructed over it, i.e., „Shona Sculpture” discourse that speaks on behalf of what the sculptors concretely produce, is a primitivist product and one which, as I see it, also contains racist connotations. The paradox lies perhaps in that this discourse was supported in its beginnings by the sculptors themselves (the ‘first generation’), a fact which some authors have tried to explain as a strategy for cultural and economic empowerment played out by sculptors whose aim was to maintain their cultural identity in a period of crisis. Since I do not have sufficient empirical material with which to back up this argument, I simply consider it as one possibility among others. Some questions will necessarily remain open and will contest that hypothesis: the sculptors of the ‘first generation’ persist in their fervent support for the ‘Shona Sculpture’ discourse even in periods where there is no apparent crisis in terms of a menaced cultural identity, as is the case in present day independent Zimbabwe where, moreover, an explicit politics of „indigenisation” and „back to the roots” is practised. The said discourse begins to be contested by a small nucleus of sculptors who represent the so-called ‘second generation’ and who either had those of the first as teachers or who formed themselves outside of the country; the nascent ‘third generation’ seems to maintain itself entirely aside from that discourse —not only does it feel no need to criticise it, but on occasions it in fact completely ignores it.
McEwen, basing himself on the information that he received from some of the would-be sculptors on Shona ‘traditions’ and mythology (particularly from Thomas Mukarobgwa, Joseph Ndandarika and John Takawira), constructed, as I see it, his own myth on Shona society and cosmology. This would be the starting point of a ‘Shona’ discourse, which would legitimate the authenticity of the ‘Shona sculpture’ in terms of cultural or ethnic (Shona) identity: this is to say, ‘Shona sculpture’ would be truly ‘Shona’ because it was made by Shona people who represented Shona mythology and were reviving an ancient Shona sculpture tradition. The obstruse thing here is that according to the ‘instructions’ given by McEwen, the so-called ‘Shona mythology’ was what sculptors were being asked to represent in their works whereas, from the promoters’ side, the attempt was to persuade outsiders to believe that these works were spontaneous expressions of the sculptors’ cultural background, unaffected by demands external to their local practices. The ‘Shona mythology’ that the promoters constructed reveals anything but the original relationship between myth and ethnic identity that roots in a real context of social practices, which defines real Shona culture as opposed to the one constructed within art discourse. At the core of ‘Shona discourse’ —and I will from now on often use this term to refer to the discourse upheld by McEwen and others— lies this view: that the subject matter of artistic expression was the myths and cosmology of the Shona, but more importantly, „who incarnate spirits that are said to exist in the stones”; and that the artists sought and found their inspiration in dreams, obtaining their creative skills through spirit possession.
I will now attempt to portray this ‘Shona discourse’ (whose contents I have already revealed to a large extent) by presenting the points of view of different agents involved in its production. With the aim of illustrating the dynamics of its construction, I will start with McEwen’s conceptions and I will go over to those that, apparently standing in resonance with his, are given by the (‘first generation’) sculptors.
„The Shonas” McEwen begins, „are traditionally deeply reflective, gentle, mystically inclined, and armed protectively with enduring patience”. After this statement he continues:
The older people live on the land retaining mystical belief: a deep involvement in the magical world of ancestor and tribal spirits. ... A Shona artist may not thrive as a displaced person. In foreign environments, because of his belief, he loses vital contact with his spirit world. Revered spirits of the renowned dead inhabit Muhacha trees, hills, kopjes or sanctuaries among local tribal regions. Honor is paid to the dead to comfort them and keep them benign. Their advice and protection are sought, for they intercede with Mwari the one God. ... There exist innumerable other elements that make the basis of Shona sculpture. These may derive from simple mythical or complex anthropomorphic and zoomorphic themes. Subjects such as the popular winged figure or angel, bird spirits, bird men, bats, owls, chameleons, totemic protection figures, or janus heads, seem associated with antique symbolism that reaches back to similar concepts in Mediterranean antiquity (ibid).
It is possible to encounter variations over this basic script throughout the prolific writing and publishing activity of this author, who divulges these cosmologies despite the fact that „few if any of the [above] symbols actually exist in Shona cosmology”.