Does the term “street art” go beyond graffiti? Thomas Atchley, an information systems major currently studying abroad, shared his experience of cultural performances in Beijing, China.
1. Why did you choose to study abroad in Beijing?
Whenever someone asks this question, I always respond with “Because it is different.” The culture, the food, the people, the atmosphere–EVERYTHING! I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone.
2. What was some of the art like? Is it mainly street art or is there anything religious or specific to the country?
Street art in Beijing is hard to describe, because I have not seen much. You may see some writing on walls, but I cannot remember seeing the kind of large-scale graffiti in my district. The art I have seen was in a Buddhist Temple, and, although it was beautiful, that was hard to relate to because I did not know the significance of it.
3. How does the censorship in the nation play into freedom of expression?
Censorship is a part of our lives here, primarily in Internet communications. Visiting my favorite western sites can often by troublesome, and they are always undoubtedly slower than any other Chinese website. We are advised not to associate ourselves with, or take photos of, any protests or demonstration (although I have not seen any since I’ve been there).
4. How’s the art in Beijing different from the art in the Chicago?
I haven’t seen street art in Beijing, but I have seen many a good number of cultural performances. In Yunnan, we saw 5 ethnic minorities in them, but the performances were more cultural rather than political or ideological.
5. What’s been your favorite piece of street art? Are visitors able to relate or connect to it easily?
Activities in Yunnan were the coolest art performances I have seen so far. My favorite performance was when a Tibetan boy sung an A ’Capella song that was traditionally used to woo a girl. As I recall, it is expected that a boy can sing well, or else a girl would not like to marry him. Even though I couldn’t understand his words, his piercing shrill conveyed enough passion that touched beyond words and into emotions.
What do you think? Are you surprised at how the people in Beijing express themselves on their streets? Let us know in the comments or @ExpressLoyola using #ExpressGlobal
All photos courtesy of Thomas Atchley.