Shandong Culture

Painting portraits of a continent

By Deng Zhangyu (China Daily) Updated: 2017-06-20

Five Chinese artists who traveled to three African countries earlier this year didn't see the savannas and animals they expected - but they were deeply touched by the people.

These Africans are rendered on these Chinese painters' canvases.

The show Walking Paintbrush, which recently ended in Beijing and will head to the Qingdao Art Museum in Shandong province on July 19, displays over 50 ink, oil and watercolor paintings by the artists, who traveled to Malawi, Tanzania and Mauritius in January.

It was their first time on the continent, which they'd known only through books and TV.

Chen Cheng says she was fascinated by people living in original landscapes - passionate dancers, children riding bikes and market shoppers.

Painting portraits of a continent

"I expected to see lots of animals running in the wild," she says.

"But the people intrigued me most."

Chen plans to visit another three African countries in October.

The artists were captivated by the natural areas in Malawi, a landlocked country and agricultural economy, she says.

"I could feel their happiness through their eyes, smiles and dances. Many of them have no idea about China," she says.

But they saw Chinese doing business in Tanzania and people from around the world in Mauritius.

"We know Africa isn't homogenous," Chen says.

"It has various cultures and different economies."

That's why she has decided to return to explore more.

Ink artist Fu Xuming sensed Africa was different from other places he'd visited - a feeling he got when he smelled the fresh air and heard a plethora of languages upon landing.

"I'm a landscape artist," he says.

"But all I painted this time were people."

He was fascinated by locals' clothes and dances, and their attitudes toward life and people.

"Africa's art is awesome," he says.

"I only came to understand how it inspires many Western artists only after experiencing it in person."

The trip was part of a project to enhance cultural cooperation and people-to-people exchanges initiated by China's Culture Ministry.

In 2015, President Xi Jinping and African leaders signed the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Johannesburg Action Plan (2015-18). It included a project inviting officials, scholars and artists from China and Africa to undertake cultural exchanges.

African artists had been invited to Jiangsu province's capital, Nanjing, in 2011. They stayed for two months to experience Chinese culture.

The ministry will support more Chinese artists' trips to African countries, says Han Zhihong, an official in charge of African affairs from the Culture Ministry.

"We'll strengthen cooperation between China and Africa in art and cultural exchanges," Han says.

"It's a good way to know each other from the artistic side."

 Painting portraits of a continent

An oil painting by Chen Cheng, who joined a China-Africa exchange project by the Culture Ministry.Provided To China Daily

(China Daily 06/20/2017 page20)