Pancho Guedes and the Protestant Missions, Socio-spatial Alternatives in Colonial Mozambique
Dissertationsprojekt von Silvia Balzan
Drawing from theoretical and empirical approaches of anthropology and ethnography to answer questions concerning the history and theory of architecture, this Ph.D. research documents the history of production and the sociopolitical life of a selection of buildings commissioned by the Protestant Missions to the Portuguese émigré architect Amâncio (Pancho) Guedes during the last years of the longlasting Portuguese colonization of Mozambique which ended in 1974 with the independence of the country.
Through the localized study of Guedes’ architecture for the missions in Mozambique, the research aims to contribute to the broader historiography of postwar ‘modernist architectural diaspora’ (Cook and Sharp 2000) beyond the European metropolises. The thesis brings attention to this country, still profoundly overlooked in the broader discussion of colonial modernism today and to this specific segment of the work of Pancho Guedes: ‘altermodern’ (Gadanho 2007) architect, born in Portugal but educated in Africa, who spent most of his life in the colony.
Shading light on his artistic, social, and political position, the research also wishes to enhance the understanding of the role of the Protestant missions in the country during the Portuguese regime, which, likewise Guedes, occupied a position in the colonial society that cannot be easily framed following the binary division between colonizers and colonized. The late colonial Portuguese colonies, characterized by the assimilationist policies, allowed, in fact, for the emergence of several “alterities” (Castelo, Ribeiro Thomaz, Nascimento, and Cruz e Silva 2012) that need to be described by a more refined chronology. Pancho Guedes and the Protestant mission – “others” of the colonization – committed to building what in this thesis it is referred to as Guedes’s social architecture for the missions.
The collaboration between these two actors led to a consistent amount of worship and educational spaces across the country which they have not been scholarly analyzed so far. The Ph.D. critically examines these spaces’ distributed agency in fostering an ‘African consciousness that was broader than the early ‘ethnic’ consciousness, and encouraged a national rather than a local perspective of opposition to Portuguese oppression’ (Cruz e Silva 2001). By addressing a form of agency to these buildings, beyond the network of protagonists who built them, the research investigates the potential of these spaces to change power relations during the various historical phases of Mozambique’s tumultuous history: from the end of colonialism to the postindependence socialist phase, to the more recent privatization policies of contemporary neoliberal Mozambique.
The study supports the hypothesis that these built infrastructures, born from Guedes’s ethical rather than political commitment, played a social and political role within the urban, periurban, and rural context where the three main case studies are located. These are the Khovo Lar students’ house in the center of Maputo; the St. Cyprian Anglican center in the outskirts of Chamanculo; and the small elementary school in the rural community of Facazisse, 200 km north of the capital city. Focusing on the sociopolitical role in Mozambican society of these spaces throughout its re cent history, the investigation goes beyond an evaluation of modern colonial projects through welfarist terms of success and failure focusing instead on the unexpected relations that they set up’ (Le Roux 2014).
The chosen case studies work as paradigmatic examples to contribute, methodologically speaking, to the interdisciplinary fields of historical anthropology, integrating approaches derived from liminal fields as material culture studies (Buchli 2000) and new materialism (Bennett 2010). By applying ethnographic methods for historiographical research, the inquiry discusses methodological issues of architecture historians’ current ways of writing about modern colonial architecture in postcolonial times. It positions itself in the tradition of cultural history: a ‘history from below’ (Sharp 2001), adopting what Lloyd (1993) describes as the ‘attractiveness of anthropological method’ for historians, which permits ‘a dynamic interest in culture to the historical study [...] by way of scale reduction. Large questions are posed to intimate settings.’
A visual essay constitutes the backbone and the narration guideline of the theoretical dissertation, combining images conceived as historiographical sources in archives and images as ethnographic outputs of the fieldwork, theorygenerating in the anthropological sense.