Briefing from ROAPE Volume 17 Number 48
Makonde: Sculpture as Political Commentary

Makonde: Sculpture as Political Commentary
Vol.17 No.48 (Summer 1990), pp106-115
Art is a living, changing entity, reflecting the broader social order in which it appears. In recent months a particularly striking example of African art, the sculpture of the Makonde, who live on both sides of the border between Mozambique and Tanzania, has formed the basis of an exhibition which has toured the UK. Changes over the years in the style and form of sculpture produced by the Makonde have mirrored economic and political changes experienced by the Makonde people. Their ‘traditional’ carvings were restricted to the Mapiko masks used in initiation ceremonies. But after World War Two and within the context of Portuguese colonialism, new carvings began to appear in white wood, as peasants began to devote part of their time to sculpting in response to emergent demand from the colonists. The intricate, intertwined figures carved in black wood, most commonly associated with the Makonde and forming the bulk of the Malde collection which has been on tour, are a more modern creation. New designs and the utilisation of new motifs began to appear in the late 1950s, but interestingly their form varied depending on whether they were produced by the Makonde in Tanzania or Mozambique. The former were more directly a response to market forces. The art of the Makonde in Mozambique, while sharing the same response, was integrally connected with the struggle against Portuguese oppression launched by Frelimo. It is the concern of this piece through exploring these differences, to illustrate the nature of the organic tie which, in this instance, has bound a people's art to their collective political aspirations.