Recognition and Alterity in the Portraiture of Chinese-African Encounters in Guangzhou
In the past ten to fifteen years, the People’s Republic of China has attracted many visitors and migrants from different parts of the globe. In particular, the city of Guangzhou, being an ancient center of commerce and global connections, has experienced the arrival of tens of thousands of traders and migrants from many parts of Africa. The majority are visiting traders and short-term residents who frequent local markets and factories to purchase manufactured goods to be shipped in bulk to destinations in Africa. Coverage in the national media and discussions in Chinese social forums have shaped diverse opinions of the Chinese public about the presence of Africans in Guangzhou. These range from commentaries highlighting the economic and social benefits of China’s opening to the world, to remarks with a nationalist undertone that emphasize the disruptive influence of foreigners. The presence of Africans in Guangzhou has also attracted the attention of researchers, filmmakers and photographers.
In this lecture, I will focus on the portraiture of Chinese-African encounters by three photographers from different regional and cultural backgrounds: the Chinese freelance photographer Li Dong, the South Africa based artist Michael MacGarry, and the US American photographer and filmmaker Daniel Traub. Independently of each other and with a slight time lapse (2012–2015), all three have documented the co-presence of African and Chinese residents in the Xiaobei neighbourhood in Guangzhou. Drawing on the seminal work of the anthropologist Johannes Fabian on the construction of alterity and on portraiture in Africa, the lecture will engage with the following questions: In which ways have the three photographers’ biographical, cultural and professional backgrounds inscribed themselves in their specific aesthetic and narrative strategies? In which ways do their portraits generate knowledge and recognition of migrants as persons in their own right? How do they contribute to questioning or reconstructing migrant alterity?
Respondent: Helen Gilbert (Cologne/London)