Dafen Oil Painting Village: More Than Just Copies

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Last month, Elaine Campbell, from PKU School of Transnational Law, organized a day trip to discover one of the most artistic places of Shenzhen: Dafen Oil Painting Village.

Dafen is a four square kilometres village whose unique atmosphere makes it a must-trip after days spent in the crowded Shenzhen.

It is located close to Dafen metro station and very easy to find: you are certain of being in the right place because you are welcomed by a gigantic sculpture of a hand holding a paint brush; giving you the idea of “here we go overboard”, and they do indeed.

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This very small village hosts (as the official website states) 1100 galleries, over 8000 artists producing an astonishing number of painting per year (able to supply up to 60% of the oil painting demand worldwide).

Born at the beginning of the Nineties, this place comes from Huang Jiang´s idea of gathering few local art students who were asked to specialize on a specific artist or art period. They were almost twenty at that time, and today they are few hundreds, divided in different ateliers.

Among them there are experts of Impressionism, Pop art, Art nouveau etc. or others specialized in portraits or copycat of specific painters like Van Gogh or Rembrandt. The whole village is organized around this cluster of small shops whose only activity is painting and selling hundreds of Mona Lisa every day.

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Visiting this place challenges our own preconception of creativity. Are those paintings mere copies, shanzai? Can we define those painters as artists? The own definition of creativity as a “process through which something new and somehow valuable is formed” directs our thoughts on two themes: novelty and value.

People from all over the world buy those painting because they have value. No one expects to see the authentic Almond Blossoms there, no one is deceived. As a hedonic consumption, buyers are looking for the emotions that the painting, even with small changes, can transmit.

The colours and shapes of the picture connect to their senses, body and mind. They are touched, moved, transported to a new place. And what we they are buying is the possibility to have a particular, unique feeling that just specific combinations of shapes and colours can transmit.

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As regards to novelty, what is bought there is not a poster. It is a handmade product, created with artisanal emotional investment, made with love, not printed by a machine. It is indeed unique as no painting is the same as another. It is not the original, it is a new one.

Besides that, very few people can recognize an original painting from one that is just “strongly inspired” by it. And even less people can afford them. Dafen allows every one of us to own a piece of art in our living room.

A final thought. This trip reminded me that if on one hand “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, on the other hand all this artwork being replicated shows that art is also a universal language and the greatness of some operas can be recognized independently of borders, culture, origin, religion.

Written by Sofia Zamengo

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