Pray to the Archive: Abstracting History in Zanzibar | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 9, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2045-5895
  • E-ISSN: 2045-5909



This article explores the problem of reading architecture as archive, with specific reference to the built environment on the island of Zanzibar. The architecture of Stone Town – Zanzibar's urban centre – is often marshalled by scholars as clear evidence of the island's complex and layered histories. This reading, however, tends to lament an erstwhile Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism at odds with both the Zanzibari past and present. In this article, I trace the contours of the island's divergent political and architectural histories and demonstrate how an archival view of architecture can obscure the very past it seeks to recover. I illustrate this tension through one particular case study: the Khoja Jamatkhana in the heart of Stone Town. I then consider the possible futures of archival readings by exploring the limits of both formal analysis and historical context through the work of contemporary artist Zarina Bhimji. If the Jamatkhana points to the restrictive capacity of archival readings of architecture, Bhimji's work opens up the archive itself as a site of abstraction, bringing into sharp relief the intricate relationship between space and history.


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  1. Kara, Taushif. (2020);, 'Pray to the Archive: Abstracting History in Zanzibar'. , International Journal of Islamic Architecture, 9:2, pp. 265-85, doi:
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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): cosmopolitanism; Indian Ocean; jamatkhana; Stone Town; Zanzibar; Zarina Bhimji
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