UPDATE: Hubei Provincial Museum will be removing their controversial exhibit featuring a photo series that compares African people to wild animals, Blavity reports.
The photos in the exhibit titled, “This is Africa,” were taken by photographer Yu Huiping, who has reportedly been to Africa more than 20 times. However, Huiping is not responsible for juxtaposing his photos in this offensive way. Instead, the museum’s curator, Wang Yeujun, was behind the decision.
Despite heavy criticism, Yeujun doesn’t seem to see how the presentation of the photos was racist.
“The target of the exhibition is mainly a Chinese audience,” Yeujun said, adding that it’s customary for the Chinese to compare humans to animals as compliments. He cited the example of how Chinese people identify with Chinese zodiac animals.
“In Chinese proverbs, animals are always used for admiration and compliment,” Yeujun added.
Yeujun said that after receiving backlash, he decided to pull the exhibit to “show respect for our African friends’ opinions.”
The issue with Yeujun’s logic is that it fails to acknowledge the cultural differences between the Chinese and Africans.
As a curator, he did himself a great disservice by attempting to portray an entirely different culture through his own culture’s lens.
Furthermore, the way the photos were arranged may have garnered more positive attention if the images included people of other races also compared to animals — but they did not.
Perhaps being compared to animals is a compliment in China and in some cases may also be well-received in Africa, but not when the comparison is with an animal that has been historically used to insult and demean them, such as an ape.
We can only hope that Yeujun learned a valuable lesson from this experience and will use better judgment in curating future projects.
A video is circulating the internet, showing an art exhibit in China that compares portraits of African people to wild animals.
The video is being heavily criticized for coming across as racist and perpetuating the longstanding belief that Africans and black people are lesser beings and primitive.
The installation consists of black and white side-by-side images of African people and various animals in similar poses.
According to OMGVoice Nigeria, the display is in a gallery located in Wuhan Province, China. In the video, many people are seen marveling at the so-called art and taking photos with their cell-phones.
The most offensive thing about the installation, perhaps, are the photos that compare Africans to apes, which is a major social taboo as such juxtapositions have been used as slurs against Africans and black people throughout the world for ages, and particularly, during the era of American slavery.
Race relations, on an international scale, have been incredibly tense with the divisive rhetoric being spread by right-wing politicians, including United States President Donald Trump; France’s presidential runner-up, Marine Le Pen; and the Dutch Islamophobic Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders, among others.
However, as OMGVoice Nigeria notes, there are many misconceptions about black people believed in China, including the notion that all Africans have AIDS.
In any case, the timing for this cringe-worthy exhibit couldn't have been any worse; however, we'd argue that there's never a good time to install a display that even slightly promotes negative stereotypes about a given race.
The artistic value of this work was completely lost on many Africans and black folks alike, who took to social media to slam the exhibit and the gallery for its cultural and racial insensitivity.
The backstory behind the exhibit and the artist's intent are important pieces of context that are missing from the debate surrounding the installation; however, that has not stopped outrage from ensuing based on the impression that the art conveys.
In these difficult times, everything involving race is being viewed under a microscope and carefully analyzed because the lines have been so blurred between what's acceptable and what is not.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, RedGazelle15