Chinese pay tribute to African art at Beijing show

By Melanie Peters Time of article published Apr 9, 2017

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BEIJING: African sculptures have been a source of inspiration to artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Georges Braque.

These words were part of a message from director of the National Museum of China, Lu Zhangshen, inscribed on the wall of the Exhibition of Selected African Sculptures. Journalists from African countries, on a fellowship with the Chinese African Press Centre, attended a media briefing at the National Museum of China and were given a tour of its exhibits which included African sculpture.

The museum has collected African artworks - mostly traditional carving and sculpture from central and west Africa.

The 600 African works currently on display were donated to the museum by Xie Yanshen, a Chinese art professor and an expert on African artefacts.

Lu’s message to visitors was that he hoped it would nurture their interest in African art. “Be encouraged to carry out studies of African art. Art will be a good link to strengthen friendship and cultural communication between China and Africa.”

He said the exhibition “pays respect to those unknown artists from African tribes and deepens China’s understanding of African cultures”.

Bai Yuntao, deputy director of the National Museum of China, said the museum had had many collaborations with the US, Europe and Saudi Arabia, but none with Africa and hoped to remedy this.

“We welcome future collaborations with Africa. It will help us better understand each other’s cultures.”

The journalists were also given a tour of an exhibition titled State Gifts:Historical Testament to Friendly Exchanges.

Jewelled swords, a solid mass of amber, a Wari game board, native American figures, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, silver fighting cocks, a gold-plated eagle, a mandala embedded with gems and a lacquered vase inlaid with mother-of-pearl were among 611 gifts on display.

Some gifts are tasteful, others ornate or obscure.

The gifts were presented during diplomatic visits to Chinese leaders, from Mao Zedong to President Xi Jinping.

The exhibits have been selected from more than 30000 in the museum’s permanent collection.

They were accumulated from 1949 during Chinese leaders’ diplomatic activities.

Those from the Republic of China’s early years include a cast-iron sculpture, titled Taming a Horse, presented to Mao by workers at the Soviet Union’s Ural Heavy Machinery Factory in February 1950 and a pair of porcelain swans US President Richard Nixon presented Mao in February 1972 while he was visiting China.

Among the later state gifts on show presented to Chinese President Hu Jintao are a wood sculpture of cattle from President Jacob Zuma in 2010, a jade goddess statue, from Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni in August 2005 and a blue-and-white porcelain pot from Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2012.

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