Have you ever wanted to know how to tie an African headscarf around your head? What about making African bracelets and other accessories? And why not learn how to mix bright colors and try your hand at painting? These are some of the many possibilities that were offered to a large international audience during Art Afrik, an event held on May 23 at Caravan Restaurant in Beijing as part of Africa Week, two days ahead of this year's Africa Day.
While Africa Day is usually confined within the limits of Beijing's African community, this year, a group of young African students wanted to do things differently. They took this opportunity to bring together people from all walks of life in interacting with the culture and arts of the diverse African people. This is how Africa Week, a series of events organized across the Chinese capital, ranging from dance, music and arts to gastronomy, came to be held on May 18-26.
Africa Week organizer Zahra R. Baitie, a Ghanaian international affairs student at Tsinghua University, said she hopes that these activities will inspire a positive dialogue and deeper ties between local Chinese and African expatriates in Beijing. While she said she has "had a generally positive experience in China," the conversations she has every day with her Chinese friends remind her that "there is still a lack of understanding and empathy toward the African community here in China, despite our close ties and the depth of our economic commitment." In order to change Africa's perception in China, Baitie took the initiative of coordinating this series of cultural events as an effective way to engage with the public.
"Arts captivate people, as do dance and music," she told ChinAfrica. "Therefore, we wanted to show the dynamism of the African continent through cultural programs that go beyond the national framework."
It is also for this reason that she chose the ijinle, which means "root" or "source" in the Yoruba language, as the event's theme. "We aim to highlight Africa as a source of rich cultures and experiences of the past, present and future."
Heather Li, a 24-year-old Chinese event manager in a technology media organization, was among the hundred participants who took part in the event. She shared with ChinAfrica her enthusiasm for this initiative: "I like to learn about different cultures because for me, it's a process of identifying people from other cultures." For her, the event brought unity to the pan-African community and enthusiasts of African cultures of all origins. Christelle Ddaya Mbaya, a Congolese journalist at China Radio International, viewed it the same way. She believed that young African students in Beijing had done "wonderful" things. "It's a very nice initiative that showed the different facets of the continent. It allowed African expats to meet again and to share our daily life with other communities."
Art Afrik was hosted by painters James Sserwadda and Mikka Kabugo, illustrator Chisom Onyishi and artist Anima Opare specializing in making African jewelry and accessories. While creating modern works of art on the spot, they also organized interactive workshops to enable participants to discover African art through various means, including painting, photography and crafts.
"Having the public take part in the creative process seems to us an effective way to create partnership in an intangible way," explained Baitie.
Anima Opare took the opportunity to teach how to tie an African scarf around the head and how to make African beaded bracelets. For her, Art Afrik represents a rewarding opportunity to get closer to her public. "Once they discover this form of art, they are really impressed, surprised and curious, and start asking more questions, which gives me another opportunity to tell my stories. So, art is a powerful medium through which we can show the world what we have."