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Prof. Dr. Pamilia Gupta


Looking for, Listening to ‘Crowds’ in the Capital Art Studio Collection (Zanzibar)

Prof. Dr. Pamilia Gupta


Crowds are defined as large groups of people, a gathering of sorts. They can be spectacular or mundane, often bordering on the disorganized or unruly. There is a sociology to crowds (Borch 2012, 2013, 2015) that says something about colonial-capitalist societies of the spectacle (Debord 1967) and social cohesion and emotion in the everyday (Le Bon 1895). As well, they point to the dynamic role of publics and counter-publics across time and space (Warren 2002). Here I want to zoom in on the Capital Art Studio collection and archive founded by Ranchhod Oza in 1930 in Stone Town Zanzibar, and carried on by his son Rohit Oza (1983--) through to the present moment. What sorts of crowds did father and son seek out to photograph, to image and imagine this Indian Ocean port? A cursory reading of the archive suggests over 30 images of crowds that collectively index several thematics: British colonial military might and Omani royal pageantry; sport (dhow and bicycle races, and bullfighting on nearby Pemba island) and leisured gatherings in non-urban settings by minority communities. As well, there is a visible crowding of buildings and things (dhows in particular) in these photographs which also says something about Stone Town’s history of colonial urban planning (Bissell 2011), including its cramped built environment on an island space. Here I am interested in both looking for and listening to these crowd(ing)s, through a ‘sonic’ lens following Tina Campt (2017) in order to engage with a more sensorial Zanzibar, including its affective frequencies. It is a form of reading images that pays equal attention to sight and sound both, and allows for a set of still black and white photographs to become moving transoceanic narratives and aesthetics within multiple frames— of British Protectionism (1890-1963) and Omani Sultanate Rule (1698-1964) through to post Revolution Zanzibar (1964-) and its becoming Tanzanian.

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