Carving out the lines of visual intimacy in the story of a Chinese artist and collector

Streaming Media


The Chinese in Africa / Africans in China Research Network Conference Organising Committee in collaboration with the Centre for Cultural Research and Development at the Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong; and the Institute for Emerging Markets Studies at HKUST.

Event Title

CAAC2021 9th Online Mini-symposium : Distances and Intimacies

Document Type





9:00 p.m.


Online Session via Zoom


This paper explores the ways visual intimacy is performed and enabled by the agency of knives in art making and art appreciation by a Chinese artist and collector who lives between South Africa and China. Based on a biographical study of Li Shudi, it demonstrates the use of the knife physically and metaphorically in facilitating multiple accesses of proximity that pulls together traces of informal, obscured interconnections of ordinary individuals in the South (Baasch, Folárànmí, Koide, Kakande and Simbao 2020). The use of a knife, on the one hand, provides “restorable reach” (Schutz and Luckmann, 1973) to Li’s memory of carving Mao’s profile during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and it also provides a link to his vulnerable experience of working as a graphic designer in a Taiwanese owned carpet factory in South Africa, where he carved patterns on the handle of a knife and used it as a means of protection. On the other hand, it also provides a reflective reach to the learning experience with his lecturer Liu Tiehua (1917- 1997), who was one of the primary artists in the Modern Woodcut Movement in China (1930-40s), and to his print collecting practices in South Africa. A sense of visual intimacy is activated by Li as he carries the bold and often crude lines of Liu’s style in woodcarving and the spirit of an emotional rawness and humility with him in art making and collecting practices in South Africa. The paper substantiates the visual intimacy by interweaving visual analysis of Li's collection of Japanese prints, and artworks of a South African community artist Edith Bukani as well as Li’s artworks. It proposes the visual intimacy maintained by individuals like Li Shudi as a new way of seeing the obscured and complex co-presence of informality, proximity, and mobility within the broad discourse of China-Africa contacts.



Additional Information


Binjun Hu is a PhD candidate in the National Research Foundation SARChI Chair Programme in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, Fine Art Department, Rhodes University, South Africa. She received her MA in Heritage Studies at Wits University. Her current research focuses on de-centering the history of collecting by reflecting on the agency of Chinese collectors in South Africa.

Recommended Citation

Hu, B. (2022, January 21). Carving out the lines of visual intimacy in the story of a Chinese artist and collector [Video podcast]. Retrieved from