Chocolate City focuses on the once-substantial African diasporic merchant-class community in Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China. In Guangzhou, a 10 square kilometer area was given the name ‘Chocolate City’ by local taxi drivers; a derogatory reference to the comparatively large population of African migrants.

According to official statistics, from 2003 the number of Africans in Guangzhou grew at 30 to 40% annually, and by 2008 there were approximately 100 000 people in the community. Today, following restrictions on visas coupled with raids by immigration agents supported by city police, the African population in Guangzhou is perhaps closer to 20 000 people. These hail chiefly from Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Liberia, Togo, Benin and Mali, with Nigerians comprising the majority of the population. African merchants visit China to trade – to buy DVDs, textiles, shoes and clothing for resale in their home countries. Due to the restrictions of a 30-day visa, high travel costs and the need to remain in Guangzhou, many Africans are left with little choice but to overstay their visas. They are declared by Chinese authorities as ‘triple illegal persons’ – illegal to enter the country, illegal to reside in the country, illegal to work in the country.

Four fictional short stories written by Michael MacGarry accompany his series of photographic works within the Chocolate City publication – presenting an idiosyncratic and epistemological response to, and manipulation of, the given subject. In so doing, to question the inherent logic and assumptions of documentary photography and portraiture, and opening the frame to fiction, conjecture and recreation.

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View from Yeuixu Park, Guangzhou
View from Yeuixu Park, Guangzhou
In the Deng Feng Hotel, Xiatang Xi Lu
In the Deng Feng Hotel, Xiatang Xi Lu
From left: On Sanyuanli Dadao Outside the Guangzhou Opera House
From left:
On Sanyuanli Dadao
Outside the Guangzhou Opera House

According to official statistics, from 2003 the number of Africans in Guangzhou grew at 30 to 40% annually, and by 2008 there were approximately 100 000 people in the community.

Ojukwu Osita Emma, President of the Nigerian Community in China and Chairman of the African Community in Guangzhou
Ojukwu Osita Emma, President of the Nigerian Community in China and Chairman of the African Community in Guangzhou
 From left: Textiles at the Canaan market destined for Lagos Merchants outside Guangzhou’s Canaan Export Clothes Wholesale Trading Center packing textiles to be sent by air freight to West Africa

From left:
Textiles at the Canaan market destined for Lagos
Merchants outside Guangzhou’s Canaan Export Clothes Wholesale Trading Center packing textiles to be sent by air freight to West Africa

African merchants visit China to trade – to buy DVDs, textiles, shoes and clothing for resale in their home countries.

Momo, originally from Senegal, at the Salam Restaurant in Xiatang Xi Lu, Guangzhou. He has been trading in China regularly for nine years, and lives in Cape Town.
Momo, originally from Senegal, at the Salam Restaurant in Xiatang Xi Lu, Guangzhou. He has been trading in China regularly for nine years, and lives in Cape Town.
From left: Apartment blocks adjacent to the Consulate General of the United States of America in Zhujian, Guangzhou Chika Ekwealuo from Nigeria – resident in China for more than four years – in his shop at Tianxiu Mansion, Guangzhou
From left:
Apartment blocks adjacent to the Consulate General of the United States of America in Zhujian, Guangzhou
Chika Ekwealuo from Nigeria – resident in China for more than four years – in his shop at Tianxiu Mansion, Guangzhou

 

Sunday afternoon prayer at the grotto adjacent to the ShiShi Stone Cathedral, Guangzhou.
Sunday afternoon prayer at the grotto adjacent to the ShiShi Stone Cathedral, Guangzhou.

Due to the restrictions of a 30-day visa, high travel costs and the need to remain in Guangzhou, many Africans are left with little choice but to overstay their visas.

Mother and China-Born Baby (CBB) at the Deng Feng Market.
Mother and China-Born Baby (CBB) at the Deng Feng Market.
From left: Hennessy Road, Hong Kong Yusuf, from Togo, outside an electronics shop at Chungking Mansions, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
From left:
Hennessy Road, Hong Kong
Yusuf, from Togo, outside an electronics shop at Chungking Mansions, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

They are declared by Chinese authorities as ‘triple illegal persons’ – illegal to enter the country, illegal to reside in the country, illegal to work in the country.

From left: Tina Zhou in her jewellery shop at the Bole Clothing Market, Guang Yunag Xi Lu, Guangzhou. Her boyfriend – Omens, from Lagos – was deported from China for overstaying his business visa. Shanzai Lacoste™ bought in Mauritius
From left:
Tina Zhou in her jewellery shop at the Bole Clothing Market, Guang Yunag Xi Lu, Guangzhou. Her boyfriend – Omens, from Lagos – was deported from China for overstaying his business visa.
Shanzai Lacoste™ bought in Mauritius
From left: View west along Dongfeng Donglu, Guangzhou China-Born Baby (CBB) and mother on Sanyuanli Dadao, Guangzhou
From left:
View west along Dongfeng Donglu, Guangzhou
China-Born Baby (CBB) and mother on Sanyuanli Dadao, Guangzhou

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Michael MacGarry is a multi award-winning visual artist and filmmaker based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He holds an MFA from the University of the Witwatersrand (2004) and has exhibited internationally for ten years including TATE Modern, Guggenheim Bilbao, 19th VideoBrasil, 62nd Short Film Festival Oberhausen, International Film Festival Rotterdam and Les Rencontres Internationales. MacGarry’s practice is focused on researching narratives and histories of socio-economics, politics and objects within the context of Africa, principally in spaces where contemporary life is in a state of invention and flux.