From Lomé to Bei­jing

ChinAfrica - - BRIEFS -

Keep­ing in mind his fa­ther’s words, Xie set foot in Africa for the first time at the age of 37. This was the be­gin­ning of a love story that has been go­ing on for al­most 30 years.

From vi­o­lin to sculp­ture

Upon ar­rival, Xie was ea­ger to know ev­ery­thing about Africa. When­ever he had time, he vis­ited vil­lages and mar­kets to take pic­tures. It was dur­ing one of his vis­its that he dis­cov­ered carved ebony hand­i­crafts. As ebony is also the main ma­te­rial for mak­ing fin­ger­boards for vi­o­lins, these carv­ings im­me­di­ately caught Xie’s at­ten­tion and his pas­sion for African sculp­ture be­gan.

“At first, I bought these sculp­tures be­cause I found them beau­ti­ful. Later, I re­al­ized that they were merely tourist prod­ucts, and that tra­di­tional sculp­tures were much bet­ter. So I started col­lect­ing tra­di­tional African sculp­tures, which are more prim­i­tive, be­cause their in­stinct is hu­man and comes from life and cul­ture,” said Xie.

Lit­tle by lit­tle, Xie col­lected thou­sands of art­works from dif­fer­ent tribes. In 2011, he de­cided to open the MIAA in Lomé, where he ex­hibits his own col­lec­tion on about 1,630 square me­ters.

“Africans are wise. They are in­spired by life and rep­re­sent their daily life in their art­works. Tools used in life or sac­ri­fice ri­tu­als are also made into works of art. For ex­am­ple, the Sen­ufo wood carv­ings are also tools for tamp­ing down the ground. Their life is part of their art,” ex­plained Xie.

Over the years, the mu­seum has wel­comed many im­por­tant vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing Wang Zuofeng, China’s Am­bas­sador to Togo at the time, who con­grat­u­lated Xie for his art col­lec­tion and im­por­tant work. He sug­gested that Xie should try to strengthen links be­tween To­golese cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions and China’s Na­tional Mu­seum, to bet­ter pro­mote cul­tural and artis­tic ex­changes be­tween the two coun­tries.

The Na­tional Mu­seum of China com­pleted its ex­pan­sion and opened to the pub­lic in 2012. On this oc­ca­sion, Xie do­nated part of his col­lec­tion to the mu­seum, which pre­sented them as part of the in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion on African sculp­ture.

“It was the first time for the Na­tional Mu­seum of China to ex­hibit art­works from other coun­tries to­gether with its own col­lec­tions,” he said.

In late 2005, Xie or­ga­nized an ex­hi­bi­tion on African sculp­ture at Nan­jing Univer­sity of the Arts. Many teach­ers and stu­dents told him that they had never seen such works of art. Since then, Xie took it upon him­self to help more art teach­ers, stu­dents and or­di­nary peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate African art.

His wish will soon come true. Part of Xie’s African col­lec­tion is now be­ing trans­ferred to a mu­seum in the T3 Artis­tic Com­mu­nity in the north­east part of Bei­jing. Cov­er­ing more than 1,000 square me­ters, the mu­seum will in­clude thou­sands of art­works, in ad­di­tion to a class­room and a stu­dio.

“I hope that Chi­nese will be able to ap­pre­ci­ate African art­works with­out hav­ing to go abroad,” he said.

But it has not been easy to cre­ate such a mu­seum. The big­gest chal­lenge was pro­tect­ing works of art dur­ing their ex­pe­di­tion from Africa to China. In­deed, some art­works were dam­aged dur­ing trans­porta­tion. In ad­di­tion, wood carv­ings are sen­si­tive to cli­mate vari­abil­ity and crack as time goes.

“I in­vited some wood carv­ing artists in Togo to do re­pair work. This way, the au­di­ences can en­joy the best art­works in Bei­jing,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Xie, the mu­seum is ex­pected to com­plete in early 2019, af­ter which his work­shop will be open to teach­ers and stu­dents of art uni­ver­si­ties.

“I hope teach­ers and stu­dents can find in­spi­ra­tion here, just like Pablo Pi­casso and Henri Matisse were in­spired by African art and fi­nally launched new schools of paint­ing,” he said.

African art de­serves to be ap­pre­ci­ated, but also to be stud­ied, he added. This is why he is cur­rently ex­plor­ing ways of co­op­er­a­tion with art schools such as the Academy of Arts and De­sign of Ts­inghua Univer­sity, the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts and the Nan­jing Univer­sity of the Arts.

But be­yond that, Xie also hopes to en­able more or­di­nary peo­ple to un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate African art. He in­tends to ful­fill this mis­sion by hold­ing var­i­ous cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties in his mu­seum, bring­ing African arts into Chi­nese peo­ple’s lives.

“If we want to de­velop con­nec­tions be­tween dif­fer­ent peo­ples in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, they first need to un­der­stand each other. In the con­text of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and China-africa friendly co­op­er­a­tion, I hope I can do my best to let Chi­nese bet­ter know and ap­pre­ci­ate Africa,” he said.


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