A Wuhan museum has removed some photos from a controversial exhibition which ignited outrage and charges of racism in Africa.
The exhibition called “This is Africa” featured photos taken by Chinese photographer Yu Huiping during his travels on the continent. One particular segment of the exhibit, titled “outward appearance follows inner reality,” featured a dozen photos of Africans framed alongside those of animals sporting similar expressions.
“This is Africa” opened at the Hubei Provincial Museum on September 28th, just before the Golden Week holiday, drawing in tens of thousands of visitors. However, the under/over-lying racism of the pieces apparently was not picked up on until an African student visited the museum last week and uploaded a video of the photos.
That video quickly made waves on African social media and prompted outrage from the African community in Wuhan. The AFP reports that African students complained about the exhibit to their university deans and others petitioned their embassies. Before the week was through, the story even made its way to international media outlets.
Responding to the controversy, the Hubei Provincial Museum has removed the offending photos (which were scheduled to remain until October 17th) but has not issued an apology. Wang Yuejun, the curator in charge of the exhibit, has called the charges of racism against the exhibit “overreactions,” insisting that the museum had not intended to discriminate against any culture and had done nothing wrong.
To demonstrate why the photos were not racist, Wang pointed to China’s own way of associating humans with animals through the Chinese zodiac, calling the incident just one big cultural misunderstanding. “The photos just call for harmony between humans and animals,” he said.
In another statement sent to Quartz, Wang added: “The exhibit’s main audience is Chinese. In the Chinese esthetic, comparing people to animals is not offensive.”
Yu Huiping, the vice-president of Hubei’s Photographers Association and the chairman of a local construction company, has visited Africa more than 20 times over the past decade and says that he has a deep love for its people and wildlife, promoting the conservation of its natural resources and beauty. He said his photos were aimed at giving visitors a sense of “primitive life” in Africa showing the harmony of humans, animals and nature.
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