Past Events

'Mskiti ya Bwana Sinclair': Designing a Museum in British Colonial Zanzibar

Research Lunch – Sarah Longair

  • 6 June 2014
  • 12:30 – 2:30 pm
  • Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre
Photo of white domed building with handwritten caption

Longair image Zbar museum, Opening ceremony of the Zanzibar Museum, 11 November 1925. Detail of CO 1069-169-49, The National Archives.

Zanzibar's Peace Memorial Museum opened its doors to the public on 11 November 1925. Dubbed 'Mskiti ya Bwana Sinclair' ("Mr Sinclair's Mosque") at the time of its opening, this striking building is a fascinating and important example of British colonial architecture in the interwar period, the construction of which also offers insights into colonial governance and culture in Zanzibar. In this paper I will examine the career of its architect, John Sinclair - a pivotal figure in the colonial administration who designed buildings alongside his official position from 1898 to 1923. I will discuss Sinclair's training in London in the offices of J. L. Pearson, his earlier architectural work in Mombasa and the evolution of his style in Zanzibar, culminating in the Museum, his most ambitious and monumental building. New archival material makes possible a more detailed reading of the Museum's design than has previously been attempted. The torrid history of the construction itself involved major modifications that radically altered the Museum's form and interior display space. Such redesigns and debates reveal the anxieties behind the facades of colonial buildings.

To book your place please contact the Centre's Co-ordinator Ella Fleming on: [email protected]