Mu­tual learn­ing

ChinAfrica - - BRIEFS -

Belt and Road in paint­ings

Among the ex­hib­ited 40 plus works of Chi­nese artists, the most eye-catch­ing ones were those de­pict­ing the achieve­ments of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive in Africa. These works were com­pleted af­ter the artists vis­ited Africa on an in­spi­ra­tional tour. Among them was Mom­basa-nairobi Rail­way on 2017.5.31, the work of a young artist named Ren Dem­ing.

Aged 34, Ren is cur­rently teach­ing at the Academy of Arts and De­sign of Ts­inghua Univer­sity. When talk­ing about the art ex­change ex­hi­bi­tion be­ing held, he be­lieved that this was some­thing the artists could do to “bring Chi­nese cul­ture abroad and for­eign cul­ture to China.”

Ren be­lieves that art should re­flect the cur­rent re­al­ity, and the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and China-africa co­op­er­a­tion are among the most ex­cit­ing as­pects of re­al­ity. His paint­ing Mom­basa-nairobi Rail­way on 2017.5.31 de­picts the scene in a train cab on the rail­way. The rail­way was built by China and is one of the most im­por­tant in­fra­struc­ture projects in Kenya. In 2017, Ren joined a del­e­ga­tion of Chi­nese artists to Kenya and wit­nessed the launch of the rail­way on May 31. Im­pressed by its mag­nif­i­cence, he cre­ated the work.

“That was my first visit to Africa. When I saw the rail­way and the stew­ards dressed in red uni­forms, I had a feel­ing of deja vu. This made me proud be­cause it was the re­sult of China-africa co­op­er­a­tion,” Ren told Chi­nafrica. Along with the growth of eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion, peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes be­tween China and Africa are in­creas­ingly ac­tive. The Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive lays em­pha­sis on pro­mot­ing closer peo­ple-to-peo­ple ties. It is in this con­text that artists like Mo­tondi and Ren were able to get to­gether and learn from each other. As part of this ex­change pro­gram, the or­ga­niz­ers ar­ranged a visit to the Academy of Arts and De­sign of Ts­inghua Univer­sity and the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts. The artists also vis­ited Chin­joo, one of China’s largest man­u­fac­tur­ers of art ma­te­ri­als in Heng­shui, north China’s He­bei Prov­ince, around 270 km from Bei­jing. To Ren’s sur­prise, the African artists were in­ter­ested in the tools used by Chi­nese artists. “They were amazed at very sim­ple tools we use, such as scrap­ers for sculpt­ing and ham­mers for wood carv­ing, which they held in their hands and ex­am­ined care­fully.”

Mo­tondi also re­called that when he first came to China for the Hui’an event in 2006, he was sur­prised to find that Chi­nese artists use elec­tric tools to make sculp­tures. He said that in Kenya, art wares are made for the needs of pro­duc­tion and daily life. For ex­am­ple, the tra­di­tional craft of pot­tery is used to make ob­jects for din­ing and stor­ing; the art of carv­ing is to mark in­for­ma­tion on rocks, while paint­ing is used to draw the images of an­i­mals on walls as a wish for a good hunt. There­fore, artis­tic cre­ation re­lies on man­ual work, and the scale is lim­ited.

With the modern tools of his Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, Mo­tondi was more ef­fi­cient and be­gan to make larger works. He said that he had been given per­mis­sion to build a hero mon­u­ment in Kenya’s In­de­pen­dence Square in Nairobi.

The African artists were not the only ones who ben­e­fited from these ex­changes. The col­or­ful life­style of African artists and the rich nat­u­ral and cul­tural ex­ot­ica of the African con­ti­nent pro­vide Chi­nese artists with a great source of in­spi­ra­tion. In his 2017 tour to Kenya, Ren vis­ited the Maa­sai peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the orig­i­nal lo­cal life. He also painted with the lo­cal artists and ex­changed skills with them. The skill lev­els of African artists deeply im­pressed him.

“They are very good at us­ing ma­te­ri­als. They can cre­ate with very com­mon ma­te­ri­als and come up with in­spi­ra­tional works,” Ren said.

A uni­ver­sal lan­guage

One con­sen­sus that the artists have is that art has an im­por­tant role to play in China-africa ex­changes. “Art is a uni­ver­sal lan­guage,” said Mo­tondi. The artist be­lieves that art can cross cul­tural and lan­guage bar­ri­ers and bring the Chi­nese and African peo­ple closer.

Ren said both China and Africa have a long his­tory of art de­vel­op­ment, but there was not much com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two with re­gards to art. “In his­tory, African arts in­flu­enced Euro­pean coun­tries such as Greece, and the in­flu­ence of Chi­nese arts was mainly in East Asia,” He said.

Mo­tondi be­lieves that Western me­dia re­ports on China and Africa are dis­torted and have cre­ated ob­sta­cles for Chi­nese and African peo­ple to un­der­stand each other.

“They don’t talk about the beau­ti­ful scener­ies and the an­i­mals we have in Kenya, and they don’t talk about the coast which is very beau­ti­ful, but talk about the dis­eases of Ebola and malaria, and that our wars are killing peo­ple,” he said. He hopes that the con­tri­bu­tions by artists can change these neg­a­tive per­cep­tions.

“By hav­ing our own Kenyan artists nar­rate the African sto­ries, the Kenyan cul­ture and Kenyan sit­u­a­tions, we are able to in­flu­ence the way by which Chi­nese peo­ple per­ceive Africa,” said La­gat.

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