Accepted Paper:

Islands of images: revolutionary Zanzibar's visual aesthetic  


Gary Burgess (US Naval Academy)

Paper short abstract:

This paper first explores the influence of images of revolution on Zanzibari nationalists traveling and studying overseas in the 1950s and 1960s. Second, it examines how they sought to create and sustain Zanzibar's revolution through the construction of a new visual aesthetic.

Paper long abstract:

The images of other lands that a generation of Zanzibari nationalists acquired during their studies and travels overseas were instrumental in shaping their ideas of the meaning of such concepts as "revolution." As they visited and resided in such distant places as China, Cuba, the Soviet Union, Egypt and the United Kingdom, a cohort of young men were able to imagine and visualize the future of their islands. They then returned to Zanzibar, helped to instigate the revolution in 1964, and rapidly rose to positions of influence in a new, radical regime.

This paper not only discusses the influence in Zanzibar of exotic images of revolution taken from all over the world, it explores how, in response to such images, the islands' postcolonial regime sought to construct its own futurist aesthetic. It commissioned the painting of revolutionary murals. In particular, it orchestrated a series of annual festivals meant to be satisfying and educational for both audience and participants. Known as "halaiki" in Swahili, these visual spectacles were especially powerful because of their enactment and dramatization on a mass scale. Performed annually in Zanzibar's football stadiums, halaiki was meant to leave a series of indelible and didactic images and impressions. Through the power of such images, revolutionary elites hoped to convey the meaning of such concepts as revolution to a mass audience, and to encourage Zanzibaris to act out the future dramatically represented before their very eyes.

Panel P083
Revolution 3.0: iconographies of utopia in Africa and its diaspora