9th online mini-symposium CAAC2021 |
Distances and Intimacies: African and Chinese Entanglements in Art, Heritage and Material Culture


The Organising Committee of the 6th Chinese in Africa / Africans in China Research Network Conference invites you to join our 9th online mini-symposium titled “Distances and Intimacies: African and Chinese Entanglements in Art, Heritage and Material Culture” this Jan 21, 2022 (Friday).

Ruth Simbao examines the complex relationship between use of the land and processes of memorialisation in the case of Chinese TAZARA workers and other labourers whose remains (and their re-burying) have become a matter of controversy. Lifang Zhang explores how the artistic and pedagogical practices of Zambian artist, Martin Abasi Phiri (1957-1977) were informed by his experiences in China and reveal a hidden artistic network in the Global South. Binjun Hu discusses the ways visual intimacy is performed and enabled by the agency of knives in art making and art appreciation by a Chinese artist and collector who lives between South Africa and China. And, Jin Xi analyses the circulation and reception of African arts in China in an era of a closer Sino-Africa relationship.

This event is hosted by the Chinese in Africa / Africans in China Research Network Conference Organising Committee in collaboration with the Centre for Cultural Research and Development at the Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong; and the Institute for Emerging Markets Studies at HKUST

Ruth Simbao,  Rhodes University, South Africa
Lifang Zhang, PhD candidate, Rhodes University
Binjun Hu, PhD candidate, Rhodes University
Jin Xi, Graduate student, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Supported by 
HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies

Ruth Simbao
Re-burying the Remains of Chinese Martyrs: The Rumours, Controversies and Revised Solidarities of the New TAZARA Memorial Park in Zambia

The TAZARA Memorial Park for Chinese martyrs who died in Zambia in the 1970s and 1980s is currently being built in Lusaka Province in Zambia, and is scheduled to open in 2022. In 2021, the remains of Chinese TAZARA workers and other laborers were retrieved from a dedicated graveyard in Mpika (Northern Province) and the Leopards Hill Cemetery in Lusaka, and have been re-buried in the new memorial park along Great East Road. Residents in nearby villages and in the town of Chongwe have heard rumours about the construction of a “large Chinese graveyard”, resulting in various concerns about the use of the land and processes of memorialisation. Controversies in the area, however, are not just about the construction of the Chinese memorial site, but are complicated by recent tensions between local residents and the former ruling party, the Patriotic Front, which was recently voted out of power. While the traditional ruler of the area, Chieftainess Nkomeshya Mukamambo II, granted permission for the park to be built in her area when a delegation from the Chinese Embassy paid her a visit, the PF failed to consult her, adding to entangled suspicions about the park. In this presentation, I examine this new heritage site, which consists of an eco-park, a museum, a small cemetery and a series of public sculptures and memorials. I argue that the new park registers shifting solidarities, both in terms of local concerns that are linked to political fractures, and in terms of a contemporary re-interpretation of the revolutionary friendship or comradeship (zhanyou, 战友) historically associated with the TAZARA.

Ruth Simbao is a Professor in Art History & Visual Culture and the National Research Foundation Research Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa at Rhodes University in Makhanda, South Africa. She received a PhD from Harvard University, and runs the Arts of Africa and Global Souths postgraduate programme. Her research interests are the arts of Africa, art and activism, and artists’ responses to Chinese presence in Africa with a particular focus on South Africa and Zambia.

Lifang Zhang
Between “马丁” and “MAP”: Zambian artist Martin Abasi Phiri’s artistic practices and his experiences in China

Martin Abasi Phiri (1957-1977), also known as MAP and 马丁, is a late Zambian artist who studied at Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing from 1983 to 1988. Between his return from China in 1988 and his mournful decease in 1997, Martin made monumental contribution to the Zambian art scene with his art work and his effort to promote visual art. In spite of his significant artistic legacy, very little has been documented and written about the artist. Through Martin’s personal archives, relevant institutions’ documents and interviews with his former classmates, students and colleagues, this research explores Martin Phiri’s life and artistic experience in relation to his engagement with China. More specifically, this research explores Martin’s three roles as an artist, an art lecturer at Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka and the founder of the Zambian National Visual Arts Council (ZNVAC), and examines the way in which his practices were informed by his experiences in China. By doing so, this research fills the gap of documenting Martin Phiri’s work and brings out the hidden artistic network in the global south.

Lifang Zhang received her Master’s degree in 2017 at the Department of Asian and African Languages & Literatures at Peking University, and her Master's degree in Art History at the Fine Art Department at Rhodes University in 2019. She is currently a PhD student in Art History at Rhodes University and a member of the Arts of Africa and Global Souths research programme. 

Binjun Hu
Carving Out the Lines of Visual Intimacy in the Story of a Chinese Artist and Collector

This paper explores the ways visual intimacy is performed and enabled by the agency of knives in art making and art appreciation by a Chinese artist and collector who lives between South Africa and China. Based on a biographical study of Li Shudi, it demonstrates the use of the knife physically and metaphorically in facilitating multiple accesses of proximity that pulls together traces of informal, obscured interconnections of ordinary individuals in the South (Baasch, Folárànmí, Koide, Kakande and Simbao 2020). The use of a knife, on the one hand, provides “restorable reach” (Schutz and Luckmann, 1973) to Li’s memory of carving Mao’s profile during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and it also provides a link to his vulnerable experience of working as a graphic designer in a Taiwanese owned carpet factory in South Africa, where he carved patterns on the handle of a knife and used it as a means of protection. On the other hand, it also provides a reflective reach to the learning experience with his lecturer Liu Tiehua (1917- 1997), who was one of the primary artists in the Modern Woodcut Movement in China (1930-40s), and to his print collecting practices in South Africa. A sense of visual intimacy is activated by Li as he carries the bold and often crude lines of Liu’s style in woodcarving and the spirit of an emotional rawness and humility with him in art making and collecting practices in South Africa. The paper substantiates the visual intimacy by interweaving visual analysis of Li's collection of Japanese prints, and artworks of a South African community artist Edith Bukani as well as Li’s artworks. It proposes the visual intimacy maintained by individuals like Li Shudi as a new way of seeing the obscured and complex co-presence of informality, proximity, and mobility within the broad discourse of China-Africa contacts.

Binjun Hu is a PhD candidate in the National Research Foundation SARChI Chair Programme in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, Fine Art Department, Rhodes University, South Africa. She received her MA in Heritage Studies at Wits University. Her current research focuses on de-centering the history of collecting by reflecting on the agency of Chinese collectors in South Africa.

“Fake Masks”: A Reflection on the Reception of African Arts in China

Chinese collectors, scholars and museum curators are showing growing interest in African artistic works in an era of a closer Sino-Africa relationship. This essay is initially sparked by Taiwanese artist Chihying’s exhibit “I’ll be back” (UCCA Beijing, 2018), in which the artist inquires the circulation and reception of African arts in China under a changing geopolitical landscape. Through an analysis of Chihying’s project and a historical examination of the long-debated issue of “authenticity” in twentieth century African art history, this presentation suggests some cautionary notes for African arts exhibitions in China, most of which remain unconscious of the problematic history and unequal power relationships behind descriptive terms such as “traditional”, “tribal”, “mysterious” and “primitive” when introducing African arts and cultures, and thus might fail to challenge the long existing culture hegemony around African arts.

(she/her/hers) received a master’s degree in African Literature and Cultures at Peking University in China in 2021. She is currently a graduate student at the Department of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in U.S. Her research interests include African literature, African popular culture, literary and cultural interactions between China and African nations.

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21 Jan 2022 (Fri)
8:00 a.m. (GMT-5 New York)
2:00 p.m. (GMT+1 Lagos)
9:00 p.m. (GMT+8 Beijing)

Join online via Zoom