‘This Is Africa’, which opened at the Hubei Provincial Museum in the central Chinese city of Wuhan shortly before National Day in early October, was well-received by some critics.
Zhao Yingxin, president of the China Photographic Publishing House, called it “perceptive, smart and visually impactful,” adding that the photos seemed to “leap out of the screen,” according to Shanghaiist.
But not everyone felt the same way. In a post that’s now been deleted, Instagram user Edward Duke wrote: “The Hubei Provincial Museum put pictures of a particular race next to wild animals why? Are they the only race to have impoverished looking people?”
The exhibit juxtaposed photos of black Africans with those of animals. In one picture, a boy with his mouth open is shown next to an image of a gorilla, while in another a man is compared to a chimpanzee and a lion.
All the pictures were taken by businessman and vice-chairman of the Hubei Photographers Association, Yu Huiping, who traveled to Africa many times to get the images.
The pictures were removed this week following complaints, including from local residents.
“The target audience is mainly Chinese,” exhibit curator Wang Yuejun said in a statement, and pointed out that in China, comparing animals and people is not always seen as negative and may sometimes be a compliment, for example in the context of the Chinese zodiac.
Having the animals and people side-by-side was his idea, Wang admitted, and not Yu’s. But he added that the museum understood the concerns raised and to “show respect for our African friends’ opinions,” the offending pictures were taken down.
In a country where around 92 percent of the population is Han Chinese, misunderstandings and racial insensitivities abound.
Earlier this week the popular platform WeChat was forced to apologize after an AI error resulted in it translating the Chinese phrase for “black foreigner” into a racial slur.
Last year, a laundry ad caused a storm after it showed a black man being shoved into a washing machine before coming out the other end as Chinese.