|Mustapha Abdallah's Kilimanjaro
Chinese artist Xu Qiping uses the traditional Chinese ink painting style for her drawings. However, her subjects are not all Chinese. She has often chosen to depict African people and African scenes. And the group of students whose works, together with hers, was exhibited in Beijing last month, were not Chinese either. They were Tanzanian students from the University of Dar es Salaam’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
The drawings were part of an exhibition, African Impression, which opened at the China Museum of Women and Children on May 6.
"Using Chinese ink, brushes and painting techniques, my Tanzanian students depicted their own people and culture. I think this is true integration and communication through art," Xu said.
She was invited to teach at the University of Dar es Salaam for two months last year as part of a China-Tanzania cultural exchange program.
"Some of my paintings focus on Africans and wildlife protection," Xu said. "They are a mixture of traditional Chinese art and African culture."
The paintings at the exhibition were done on paper especially made in China. Amazingly absorbent, it can retain the brightness of the ink for some 1,000 years.
Other visitors at the exhibition also commented on the synthesis of two regions in the drawings.
"They present a harmonious integration of African art, modern expressionism and traditional Chinese painting style," remarked Chinese painter and artist Chen Shudong.
Tanzania and Tingatinga
The exhibition was an important part of the fourth edition of African Cultures in Focus, a biennial program hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Culture to deepen cultural exchanges between China and Africa.
The 90 paintings by Chinese and African artists on African themes were divided into three sections. The first section, Colorful Tanzania: Tingatinga, showcased 30 paintings in the Tingatinga style made famous by Tanzanian folk artist Edward Said. There were also 10 artworks by Tanzanian artists Mustapha Abdallah and Mohamed Augustino, who were both present at the exhibition, explaining their work to onlookers.
"This is a good opportunity for Chinese to see Tingatinga paintings from Tanzania," Abdallah said. "Tingatinga is a widely known painting style in Tanzania with bright colors, smooth lines and bold imagination." Painted on canvas with enamel colors, the vibrant paintings usually use animal and flower motifs in colorful though repetitive designs.
Abdallah said he had done several paintings especially for the exhibition, of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, and exotic African mammals like the giraffe, elephant and hippopotamus. "I think Mt. Kilimanjaro and its rich flora and fauna represent Africa, so I painted them," he said.
Though it was his first visit to China, Augustino said he did not feel he was a stranger and was touched by Chinese visitors’ interest and enthusiasm. "I felt Chinese people love my paintings," he said. "Some stopped in front of them for a closer look, some discussed the paintings with their companions. Some came up and talked to me."
The exhibition also included 40 paintings of African scenes and culture by over 20 Chinese artists, pioneers of the "urban ink painting" school. Their works use traditional Chinese ink painting to delineate contemporary scenes and objects.
"During my visit to Ethiopia, I was inspired by African sculpture and the bright colors of African paintings," said Yang Xiaoyang, Vice President of the
Shenzhen Fine Art Institute.
Yang’s painting, Girls of East Africa, shows the inspiration with its row of women in bright orange, yellow and green, who look like the vivid African masks.
Culture as a bridge
In addition to booming economic cooperation between China and African countries, cultural exchanges and people-to-people communication are also vital to the relationship, said Abdulrahaman A. Shimbo, Tanzanian Ambassador to China. "Communication is the most important thing because people-to-people exchanges can make African and Chinese people come closer, and help us understand each other," he told ChinAfrica. "It’s an opportunity to showcase our African artists and their creativity. The most important thing is that two cultures have come together, and people are able to [communicate]."
"The African Cultures in Focus program will enable Chinese audiences to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of Africa," said Xie Jinying, Director of the Bureau for External Cultural Relations, the Chinese Ministry of Culture. "It will enhance our mutual trust and deepen our practical cooperation."
The African Cultures in Focus is a part of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation’s Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-18). This year, the Ministry of Culture has invited more than 20 African troupes to perform in more than 10 cities. Besides, exhibitions, movie screenings and cultural lectures will promote cultural exchanges and communication between China and Africa.
Alternating with the Chinese Culture in Focus event, the African Cultures in Focus program has been held since 2008. They have become a significant brand and platform for cultural exchanges between China and African countries.
"Cultural exchange activities like the exhibition are effective bridges for communication," said Ding Wei, Vice Minister of Culture. "By knowing more about each other’s art and culture, the two sides would be able to understand each other better."
The eight-month program, Ding added, will bring more African art and performances to China and provide an opportunity for the Chinese to learn more about the rich and diverse cultures of the continent.