How Africans Want to Be Seen

A photography exhibit aims to educate the Chinese, but Americans -- including African Americans -- could also learn a thing or two.

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What do you think of when you picture Africa? For many people, the answer is dominated by images of famine, war and poverty. A new exhibit at Li-Space in Beijing's Coachinagi district aims to change that through photographs.

"Africa: See You, See Me!" includes the work of 36 African and non-African photographers, including Angele Etoundi Essamba from Cameroon, Moroccan Majida Khattari and Italian Marco Ambrosi. Their contributions show what the Wall Street Journal describes as "a continent of culture, hope, imagination and dreams."

Awam Amkpa, the exhibition's curator, says the photos send a message about "how Africans want to be seen rather than how they are forced to be seen."

It begins with images from contemporary Africa and leads back to works by early African photographers in the middle of the 20th century. This flow is intended to provide audiences with a glimpse of how far African photography has come since it emerged in the 1950s.

While not excluding images of poverty, the exhibition depicts the diverse people of the continent in moments of imagination, reinvention and empowerment. One section showcases work from non-African photographers to highlight artists who are "referencing new African ideas of representation in their own work." There are also black-and-white portraits that depict a fantasy world in which their subjects aspired to live.

Why is the exhibit in China? The country has a growing business presence in Africa, Amkpa said. And the Chinese "don’t know the diversity, the robustness of African culture." He added, "I think it is an opportunity for us to show this Africa that is a very modern and diverse continent ... We are not always at war. We are not always starving."

Americans may not be the "new colonialists" of the continent, as Ampka says the Chinese are, but many of us (and that includes African Americans) could probably take some of the same lessons from this exhibit.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

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