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A Sino-African palace of culture and art, a bridge between two cultures

By Xinhua

BEIJING, Sept. 22 (Xinhua) — Across the People’s Palace and the Martyrs Stadium, two landmarks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), sits another China-aided project — Central African Cultural and Arts Center that is taking shape, which, according to Alexis Gisaro Muvuni, minister of state for infrastructure and public works of the country, is “another flagship project for the cooperation between the two countries.”

“My father once worked and lived in Africa, so I have felt some kind of connection with the continent. When I heard this project in Africa, I really wanted to be part of it.” said Chinese architect Tang Wensheng, chief designer of the project in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

Tang works for Central-South Architectural Design Institute Co., Ltd., which undertakes the design work of the China-aided center.

Most striking in Tang’s office is a series of design blueprints and panoramic renderings showcasing the ingenious architectural concepts of central buildings such as theaters and school facilities.

The main structure of this building consists of a cultural center and National Institute of the Arts, which includes a large theater with a seating capacity of 2,000, a smaller theater with 800 seats, and a campus for the National Academy of Arts that can accommodate 2,000 students.

The exterior design of the core building, the cultural center resembles the shape of a round African drum, which comes from Tang’s own experience.

Tang learned about African drums from his father, who assisted with the construction of farms in Somalia in the 1980s as a member of the Chinese engineers’ team.

“In Chinese culture, the circle represents reunion. As the project is an embodiment of China-Africa friendship, I think the shape of a circle is most fitted to this project.” he said.

The design of the National Institute of the Arts also exudes a harmonious blend of Chinese and African elements. The Chinese design team found that incorporating traditional Chinese designs can make the spatial layout of the school buildings better suited to the local climate and environment.

The traditional Chinese sheltered walkaways provide both rain shelter and sun protection, together with the modified narrow courtyard, which was originally supposed to be broad, rightly suitable for the local hot and rainy climate with strong sunlight.

This photo taken on May 11, 2023 shows Kinshasa Central Railway Station (back) and Independence Square (C, front) in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). (Xinhua/Han Xu)

On the facade of the buildings, the local river sand from the Congo River was used as part of the wall paint. For interior decoration, local craft of copperplate etching, based on rich cooper resources, is widely applied, reflecting the local artistic style.

As a key project of “eight major initiatives” put forward at the Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in 2018, the Central African Culture and Art Center project has long been highly prized by the Congo side, with President Felix Tshisekedi personally laying its foundation stone in 2019.

After that, the president paid several visits to the project and the construction personnel. In 2021, Tshisekedi said during a visit that he believed that the project, when completed, would play an important role in cultural exchanges between Africa and China.

In May, during Tshisekedi’s state visit to China, the two countries announced the decision to upgrade bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership with the DRC side highly appreciating China’s support for the project of Central African Cultural and Arts Center.

“We are looking forward to moving to the beautiful building,” said Mwendanga Musengo Desire-Salomon, General director of National Institute of the Arts, adding that he is deeply impressed by the architectural design of the center that combines cultural richness and practicality.

Once the center is completed, the faculty and students of the academy will move there to work and study.

Culture and art possess a profound power that can bridge the hearts and minds between peoples, Mwendanga said, adding that the project will play a significant role in nurturing more artistic talents and promoting international cultural exchanges in the future.

He voiced hope that artists from Africa and China will have the opportunity to perform together and engage in artistic exchange in the building.■

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