Chinatowns in Africa

Elsa Bleda

2015 - Ongoing

Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

I have an interest in minority cultures that build strong communities. In 2015, I had my first engagement with the Chinese community in Johannesburg and my journey of photographing Chinatown began. South Africa’s Chinatown is the largest in Africa and full of life during the day as well as in the early hours of the evenings. But life slows down as the light begins to leave the densely packed streets. My take on Chinatown in SA is romantic and intimate as I engage a society detached from society as I know it which results in a cinematic depiction of this community who built their lives outside of China, keeping their language, aesthetics and cultural essence intact. This body of work explores personal interactions of individuals within the community and doing so in the style of street photography, from a narrator’s eyes but also focusing on the architecture and strong aesthetic identity that remains ever present in the community.

I have photographed Chinatown in Johannesburg since 2015, walking silently from the early hours of the evenings till late nights, absorbed, I have met interesting people and learned so much. I will be continuing to shoot this series but my goal is to extend it beyond South Africa to the rest of the African cities with strong Chinese communities. I’d like to use this grant to spend time in Mauritius in my next trip which also has a large Chinatown, as well as other African countries with existing communities.

With this grant, I would like extend my Chinatown series finally to Chinatowns in Africa. The photographic journey will not only focus on Chinatowns but also Chinese communities as not every country has an official Chinatown.

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