A series of photographs by Chinese artist Yu Huiping has been removed from China’s Hubei Provincial Museum after inciting global outrage, The New York Times reports.
The shocking images were part of an exhibition called “This Is Africa.” Each juxtaposes a picture of a black African with a picture of a wild animal making an analogous facial expression or gesture. The series of 150 photographs seemingly compares black people to animals including lions, chimpanzees, giraffes, leopards and baboons. The series is titled ”相由心生,” a Chinese idiom that, according to The Shanghaiist, translates to something like “outward appearance follows inner reality.”
The photos went viral after museum goer Edward E. Duke, who is Nigerian, posted an image of them on Instagram. “The capital museum in Wuhan, China put pictures of a particular race next to wild animals why?” the caption read, tagging news outlets including CNN and BBC. The post has since been removed.
The Shanghaiist reported on the exhibition, calling it “astonishingly offensive.” However Zhao Yingxin, the president of the China Photographic Publishing House, was far less critical. “Yu Huiping’s photography is perceptive, smart and visually impactful, capturing the vitality of primitive life,” he said. “The photos seem to jump right out of the lens, leap out of the screen.”
The photos were taken down after receiving a slew of complaints. Wang Yuejun, a curator at the museum, told The New York Times that he was responsible for exhibiting the people’s and animals’ faces side by side. “In Chinese proverbs, animals are always used for admiration and compliment,” he said. After realizing that the images “hurt the feelings of the African tribespeople,” he opted to remove them.
China has a nasty track record of exhibiting casual racism. On Thursday, the popular app WeChat apologized after Ann James, a black American living in Shanghai, discovered its built-in translation feature translated the Chinese phrase that commonly means “black foreigner” to the N-word.
“If you’re a black person in China, you’ve come up against some craziness,” James said. “I know there’s a lot of curiosity and a lot of ignorance about black people.”