A Shoreline student translates powerful lessons from South Africa into traditional Chinese art

south africa

Shoreline Community College students studying in South Africa with Dr. Ernest Johnson (bottom row, second from left) during the summer of 2015.

This past summer, Shoreline professor Dr. Ernest Johnson took a group of students to South Africa for four weeks as part of a study abroad program designed to examine the social and cultural history of South Africa and the current efforts to create a democratic, multicultural nation. One student, Xiaoxue (Amy) Hu, a native of China, was inspired to channel her takeaway from the experience into art.   

“Being a Han Chinese and growing up in China,” Hu explained, “I had almost never heard people talking about the term ‘apartheid.’ Before I went on this trip to South Africa, I had a fairly shallow understanding about what apartheid meant and how that would influence millions of people’s lives.”

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the governing party, the National Party, from 1948-94. Students learned that during the apartheid era, South Africa divided its population into just four categories: Black, White, Colored and Asian. In addition, Black South African languages lacked recognition during this period.

The study abroad experience included numerous visits to sites of cultural significance relating to apartheid, including homestays inside “Black” townships, a visit to Robben Island, the prison where Mandela was detained, and a tour of the Steve Biko Foundation, a community development organization inspired by and named after the late anti-apartheid activist.    

“After spending a whole day in the Steve Biko Foundation and getting to know who Steve Biko is a little bit more,” said Hu, “I decided to write down how I felt and what I have learned. However, I failed. I could not find the most accurate words to express my feelings and thoughts.”

So Hu decided to employ her skills in traditional Chinese paper-cutting, which she refers to as “the most special way for me,” to convey the significance of what she’d learned. What resulted is the creation below titled “The Calling.”

"The Calling," a traditional Chinese paper cutting by Xiaoxue (Amy) Hu.

“The Calling,” a traditional Chinese paper cutting by Xiaoxue (Amy) Hu.

According to Hu, she used a lamb, or “yang” in Mandarin, as the centerpiece of her art because “they are the symbols of kindness, gentleness, fortune and peace” in Chinese culture.

“For me,” she said, “they also represent self control, integrity and love. This is how I felt about Steve Biko’s effect on younger generations who are still fighting for racial equality.

I was particularly moved by his slogan ‘Black is Beautiful.’ Accept yourself as who you are. Love yourself as who you are. Be proud of your identity. Steve Biko and many other anti-apartheid activists sacrificed their lives to fight for equal rights for Black South Africans. The most significant point I get from their stories is how deeply they love their identities and their fellow people who deserve to be treated with integrity and respect.

The lamb doesn’t specifically represent Steve Biko or any other activist, instead it expresses the spirit and beliefs that they were fighting for. Moreover, I have found that many of the anti-apartheid activists were influenced by Christianity. From my point of view, the religion probably served as an important power for them. Therefore, the cross on the chest of the lamb is a symbol of their religion.”

But as the students learned, though progress has been made the effects of apartheid still linger. Hu conveys this through the flowers at the lamb’s feet. “Some of them are still trying to entangle the lamb,” said Hu. “However, they won’t win. The lamb is looking upon the sky and her head will never be lowered by apartheid.”

During the study abroad experience, Shoreline students had many opportunities to interact with South Africans of different races, religions, ethnicities and classes including attending lectures by community leaders and visiting high school and elementary school classes.

The immersiveness of the experience is intended to help students broaden their understanding of today’s global community and their own place in the world. Through her art, Hu did just that.

Shoreline’s quarter-long study abroad destinations include Florence, London, Tokyo, Australia & New Zealand and Barcelona. During summer quarter, unique destinations have included Honduras, Thailand, Greece & Turkey, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Bolivia, England, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, South Africa and China. For more information about Shoreline’s study abroad program, click here.

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