FASSA SAR WRITES – A Chinese museum pulled an exhibit that overtly compares African tribespeople to animals.
This exhibit went viral after a video posted on instagram showed expressions of Chinese art lovers admiring photographs of African people next to lions, apes, cheetahs and countless other “wild” safari animals. The purpose of the exhibit followed the Chinese idiom ‘outward appearance, follows inner reality.” The video that went viral displayed a caption, “China put pictures of a particular race next to wild animals why? Are they the only race to have impoverished looking people?”
The exhibit, “What is Africa,” held at Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, China, began on September 26 and was created by Chinese photographer Yu Huiping. His hope for the photographs was to “give visitors a sense of ‘primitive life’ in Africa through the interplay of humans, animals and nature.” Huiping is reported to have loved Africa and its wildlife, visiting the continent more than 20 times.
This sort of depiction of Africans in Asian culture is not new. Cultural hegemony is prevalent within Asia; Africans are seen as inferior and often looked at as spectacles. This could be due to the lack of African migrants and black influence within the country. Despite strong trade relations between the two continents, there is still limited social awareness of different cultures and races except through the lens of film, television, literature and music.
This past Friday, WeChat, a messaging platform with over 900 million users and the main text messaging service within China, received criticism for translating “black foreigner” to the racial slur “n*****.”According to the Guardian, data was released that showed that users around the world who used this phrase almost exclusively, used this phrase within a negative context, often paired with the words late, lazy, and thief.
Asian companies and media brands have come under fire for advertisements before that have been notoriously deemed culturally tone deaf and insensitive. In 2016, a Chinese laundry detergent brand, Qiaobo, released a commercial ad that showed an oversexualized African man being thrown into a washing machine and coming out as a “clean” Asian man. This ad received tremendous global backlash for its racist underpinnings, engaging in myths that African men are dirty, impure and should be discarded, while Asian men are clean and desirable.
The “What is Africa” exhibit reflects the sad truth that racism against black people is alive on a global scale and must be acknowledged. The persistent neglect of awareness and acceptance of Africa and its people is astonishing. With a lack of black people residing in Asian countries, it hinders the ability for Asians to learn from black people about their own culture, and not just what Asian media – and to no little extent Western media as well — creates and perpetuates.