CHINA, ART AND AFRICA
China’s ever and rapidly increasing prominence on the world stage is no secret, and recently, that world has begun to pay attention to rapid developments in a special relationship: that between China and Africa. And just as China celebrated a milestone moment of global emergence in 2008 with the Beijing Olympics, this month Africa prepares to host the World Cup, and with it a new chapter in its history. With a distinct tradition of friendly exchange that dates to the earliest years of Liberation, the People’s Republic of China makes a natural interlocutor, trading partner and ally for many African nations. As the oft-repeated statistic goes, trade between China and Africa last year surpassed $100 billion, already more than one-fourth of that between China and the U.S. Across the continent, Chinese construction companies are building stadiums and highways with the backing of Chinese banks and the strength of Chinese workers. On the streets and in the stores of African cities, Chinese products are readily available, raising living standards and consumption levels in a way Western foreign aid never did. The Chinese government takes great pride in its active engagement with the continent, based not on condescending help but on true collaboration, as made clear in the six-part philosophy outlined by President Hu Jintao in an African trip last year, of “unity and mutual help, increased trust, mutual benefit, expanded exchange, close communication and strengthened cooperation.” If art is said to reflect its times, the question emerges: How has contemporary art in China intervened in China’s conversation with Africa? While much of the discourse around Chinese art focuses on the ways in which artists engage with the realities of China itself, it seems now time to ask how artists here have begun to follow their nation’s lead into this new dynamic. Such exchange not only strengthens mutual understanding, but helps to bring about a truly global culture, no longer based on the tired poles of “East” and “West” or “North and “South”. In the pages that follow, LEAP presents a special collection of texts and images that explore this maturing relationship in all its facets. From a group of Chinese and Congolese artists spending a month in each other’s countries earlier this year, to a look at the Chinese presence in Dakar through the eyes of one of Senegal’s leading artists Amadou Kane Sy, to the work of painter Kehinde Wiley, whose paintings, made in Beijing, incorporate African bodies and motifs, we hope to provide a rich and complex portrait of the way that contemporary art has begun to reflect and explore one of the major global trends of our young century.