Foreign Influences in Artwork/Architecture of Zimbabwe vs Great Zimbabwe

In recent, there have been arguments of Zimbabwe’s struggle to maintain it’s African culture in art from foreign influences, specifically the West and it’s former oppressors. Dr Tony Monda argues that the essence and purpose of Zimbabwe artwork has been lost in the use of Western languages. He calls for a return to native language and a need for educated Africans to contribute in the discussion of African artwork in the native language the art was created in: “It is therefore important for art theories, art criticism, philosophy, aesthetics and journalism to be written and expressed in indigenous languages by knowledgeable, thoroughly dedicated and well-educated African people”

This argument contrasts with the city of Great Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe was a city in Southern Africa during the 11th -15th century. It was ruled by the Shona people, natives of the land. During it’s peak, Great Zimbabwe commanded authority and prestige. The many foreign artifacts found in Great Zimbabwe’s remains attest to the city’s control of trade, ranging origins from Persia to China. The trading network that Great Zimbabwe controlled, displayed the nation’s strength in controlling foreign influences compared to the struggle to maintain its native essence in current Zimbabwe artwork through the use of foreign languages.

Not only is Great Zimbabwe known for its influence as a center of trade, but also for its architectural technique of stone slanted walls.The stone slanted walls of Great Zimbabwe did not use mortar to hold the pieces together. Rather they were stacked slanting inward as it got closer to the top. This architectural technique is best seen in The Great Enclosure. 

This structure is assumed to be the palace of royalty because of its central location and large size in comparison to other slanted wall houses. The walls created privacy for the royals, thus portraying their strength and need to be set apart. Moreover, the construction of this palace was completed through Shona people. This portrayed the efforts of the Shona people in creating something admirable that was solely Zimbabwe architecture without influence of foreign lands. Rather the Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas have found that “In the 1800s, European travelers and English colonizers, stunned by Great Zimbabwe’s grandeur and its cunning workmanship, attributed the architecture to foreign powers”.

In comparison to the Great Zimbabwe, current day Zimbabwe struggles in eliminating influences of foreigners and preserving it’s culture in its artwork, which Great Zimbabwe succeed best at maintaining control of foreign influences and preservation of artwork/architecture.



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One Response to Foreign Influences in Artwork/Architecture of Zimbabwe vs Great Zimbabwe

  1. dlloebman says:

    It is particularly interesting to note how across cultures, even in those that have never shared contact, similar cultural constructions (those in power desiring to be set apart and live more privately) persist. Great Zimbabwe’s palace is profoundly unique in its construction; however, the Western colonizers saw in it something in which they too, on a more human level, could relate to. Though the techniques differed, perhaps the architectural purposes of Zimbabwe and the West weren’t all too different.

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