Two years ago when Musquiqui Chihying went to Togo he was surprised to find that the first museum of African art he visited in the country was established by a Chinese collector, which evoked the visual artist's interest in Sino-African history.
The Taiwan native, who's family name is Peng but doesn't use it in public, gives himself the name Musquiqui Chihying. Living both in Taipei and Berlin, he is presenting his take on the subject with an exhibition in Beijing.
The ongoing show that began on Aug 25, displays videos, photos and installations.
From Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) explorer Zheng He's voyage to what now is Kenya to China's late premier Zhou Enlai's diplomatic visits to 10 African states in the 1960s and a Chinese collector's donation of African sculptures to the National Museum of China in the 2000s, Chihying has also tried to show Sino-African exchanges through short videos made with documentary techniques.
"Some stories in my works are not real but imagined, based on facts," Chihying, 35, says.
In his 15-minute video, The Guestbook, the artist films his Togolese friend visiting three locations in Berlin with past associations－one of which is a massage parlor, which used to be the site of an early Chinese restaurant near which Zhou had stayed during a visit to the German city in 1923. Chihying "made up" a story about Zhou often eating at the restaurant for the video.
In his installation, Culture Center, he has reimagined a set of coins that celebrates Sino-African ties, which was inspired by his visit to some museums and theaters built by Chinese companies.
"Chinese companies not only help build roads in Africa, they also help build cultural institutions," he says.
Chihying has made an artwork inspired by five buildings related to culture that were built in Africa by Chinese companies, including theaters and museums, he says. On a side of this artwork he has drawn five animals considered auspicious in Chinese mythology, such as the turtle and the carp.
His other two artworks, The Mask and The Sculpture, draw inspiration from Chinese collector Xie Yanshen's private museum in Togo's capital Lome that shows African art collected from across the continent. From 2007 to 2011, Xie donated about 5,000 pieces of African wooden sculptures to the National Museum of China.
The donation is now part of permanent exhibitions at the national museum for Chinese to learn about African art. While Xie collected sculptures and donated them to his motherland, the European museums are planning to return African sculptures looted during the colonial era. Some British museums have "loaned" artifacts to museums in Nigeria instead of returning them.
"African sculptures can offer another perspective in understanding world history as well as art history," says Chihying, adding that it's the African sculptures that inspired Western masters such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
Chiyhing went to Berlin University of the Arts in 2010 for his master's degree in fine arts. He says as a member of a generation that grew up in the era of globalization, like some of his peers in China, he often focuses on issues facing the world in his works.
"Art has no nationality," he says.
For the past few years, Chiyhing's works have mainly focused on Africa. Earlier this year, he was invited to take part in a film festival in Nigeria with his video works.
Chihying says Western artists and scholars have done research on their own art, as well as African and Asian art, but these two branches are still marginalized compared with Western art.
He hopes to bring an Asian perspective to African Art, he says.
If you go
10 am-7 pm, through Oct 28. Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang district, Beijing. 010-57800200.