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Title:Following the stone: Zimbabwean sculptors carving a place in 21st century art worlds
Author(s):Larkin, Lance
Director of Research:Gottlieb, Alma J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Gottlieb, Alma J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Bunzl, Matti; Barnes, Teresa A.; Purpura, Allyson
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:This dissertation follows the historical trajectory of the products of Zimbabwean stone sculptors to examine the interplay between international art markets and the agency of the artists themselves. Although this 1960s arts movement gained recognition within global art circuits during the colonial era – and greater acclaim following independence – by the turn of the 21st century only a few sculptors were able to maintain international success. Following the depreciation on the markets, I ask: (1) for what reasons do international art buyers now devalue Zimbabwean stone sculpture after having valorized it in the 1960s-80s? (2) How do Zimbabwean artists react to these vicissitudes of the international art markets? In the first half of the dissertation I examine how the stone sculpture was framed by European patrons as a Modernist art that valorized indigenous beliefs in contrast to the Rhodesian colonial regime’s oppression. Following independence in 1980, the movement continued to be framed as a link to pre-state carving traditions – solidifying links with “tradition” – while the political economic situation in Zimbabwe began to deteriorate by the end of the 1990s. The combination of changing political climate and changing market forces led to a decline in the fortune of the artists, as international galleries cast the movement as “derivative,” by the turn of the 21st century. The downturn in upscale market interest provides a focus in the latter half of the dissertation as I ethnographically examine how sculptors have reacted to these circumstances. Although some artists distanced themselves from the sculpture “movement” and gained relative success, many sculptors rely on travel to South Africa as migrant workers to sell artwork for a pittance to tourists. By grounding my research in the struggles of artists as they negotiate the vicissitudes of international art markets, I assert that historical and political factors constrain the efforts of sculptors—illustrating a turn from the colonial Modernist era which highlighted the collective identity of oppressed peoples, to a post-independence period in which individual achievements are celebrated within the nation-state. As the governments of both Zimbabwe and South Africa threaten singular artists who question the power of the state, my research suggests that international art worlds continue to value artwork that threatens the status quo, but now in terms of easily sanctioned individuals, while masses of artists are relegated to the margins of the neoliberal order.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Lance Larkin
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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