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Expo: Shenzhen's painting village

By Huang Lan (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-08-20 08:30
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Over the past century, the face of Mona Lisa has been recreated ad infinitum by artists throughout the world to derive new concepts, pose new challenges and provoke critical thinking about the fundamental issues in art.

At the Shenzhen Case Pavilion in the Urban Best Practices Area of the Expo 2010 Shanghai, this eternal image had its renaissance once again. More than 500 artists from the village of Dafen, near the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, created a 43-meter-long by 7-meter-high Mona Lisa composed of 999 individual paintings, all of which have been set at the front of the pavilion.

Dafen Village was once a typical small urban village in Shenzhen with only 300 people. But all of that changed in the late 1980s with the arrival of an art dealer from Hong Kong. The dealer rented houses in the village to store his paintings and began recruiting painters to fill overseas orders for world class oil paintings.

Over the past twenty years, the Mona Lisa and other classic works of art have been reproduced repeatedly in this obscure village in southern China. Then they're shipped around the world, transcending their original birthplaces and cultural milieu.

As orders poured in from around the world, Dafen village began to boom. At its peak, over 10,000 artists were at work in the village churning out thousands of paintings by Rembrant, Da Vinci, van Gogh and Monet. The local government got involved by introducing art training, improving facilities for the artists and organizing a distribution network. And the government's efforts paid off handsomely.

The village has over 700 painting studios, an arts training center, and logistics and packaging companies. Its output now accounts for 60 percent of the global oil painting market.

The transformation of Dafen Village over the past 30 years epitomizes the rapid urbanization of Shenzhen, which is China's experimental field of economic reform since being chosen as a special economic zone. The collective image of Dafen painters represents the society at large in this youthful city.

Visitors to the pavilion can track the amazing history of Dafen Village and Shenzhen city through 16 exhibits, featuring multimedia presentations, animations, installations, and, of course, paintings.

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