Shenzhen shows vitality, dream with 'paintbrush' at Expo

Updated: 2010-08-26 11:13
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SHANGHAI - More than 500 painters, each one painting one unit, have brought together 999 units to create a giant "Dafen Lisa." It is the Dafen version of the classic painting Mona Lisa.

One painter wrote on the back of his painting, "Li Jichao, 27, from Guangdong's Zhanjiang. I want to become a brilliant artist. Go for it."

The huge portrait of Mona Lisa, at 43 meters long and seven meters high, was created on January 28, 2010. It has become the front facade of the Shenzhen Case Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo's Urban Best Practice Area.

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Shenzhen shows vitality, dream with 'paintbrush' at Expo

"Dafen Lisa" is made up of 999 oil painting segments with sizes slightly varying from each other. However, the original style, individuality and mindset of each painting unit has been retained, and painters wrote their names, ages, hometowns and dreams behind each painting.

Over the past two decades, the Mona Lisa, along with other classic artworks, have been repeatedly reproduced in Dafen, an obscure village in southern China's Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, and then shipped around the world.

Once a poor inner-city village, with an area of only 0.4 square kilometer, Dafen has become the world's largest oil painting manufacturer.

It now has more than 700 painting studios and its products are distributed in more than 60 percent of the global market for oil paintings. In 2007, Dafen's trade volume reached 430 million yuan (US$63.2 million).

Meng Yan, the chief designer of the Shenzhen Case Pavilion said, "In Dafen village, it is neither an individual artist's experiment, nor a mere copy of a classic, it is a collaborative creation -- a conceptual art piece involving a great number of Dafen painters."

The pavilion, with the theme, "Dafen Village, the Regeneration of an Urban Village in Shenzhen," attracts an average of more than 10,000 visitors daily, said Li Jian, deputy operation director of the pavilion.

Li said many visitors were Guangdong or Shenzhen natives, and visitors found the exhibition "inspiring" as the pavilion depicts Shenzhen as a frontier for "China dreams."

Before the country's reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, more than 300 native villagers in Dafen made their livings by farming. However, during the late 1980s, migrant workers moved to Dafen to work for manufacturers nearby.

In 1989, Hong Kong painting dealer Huang Jiang and more than 20 painters and apprentices became Dafen's first art explorers. Huang recruited art students and migrant workers in Dafen to replicate oil paintings for his clients.

Painters worked on an assembly line, each painting one unit, as the final painting became a collective effort.

Later, those world famous paintings copied by Huang and his people were sold abroad. With increasing profits and fame, orders surged, which attracted more painters to Dafen.

Artwork production transformed the remote Hakka community into "a key link of the global art manufacturing chain," and the cultural connotation of the artwork reshaped Dafen residents, Meng said.

He noted that the transformation of Dafen village epitomizes the rapid urbanization of Shenzhen over the past three decades.

"Dafen painters represent young people -- Some are art graduates and some are young migrants who have never touched a paintbrush before -- it is these people, with their hard work and persistence, that pushed this little village forward into globalization," he said.

Dafen village had provided a new development model for the country's inner-city villages, Meng said.

Dafen took advantage of low labor costs to survive in the low-end art market, and with the support of local government, Dafen upgraded its art industry by prioritizing the development of the cultural sector and building an art museum with a 90-million- yuan government allocation.

Shenzhen, China's first special economic zone and a southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, is scheduled to mark its 30th anniversary Thursday.

Described as a "test tube baby" of the country's reform and opening-up, Shenzhen has evolved from a small fishing village to a metropolis over the past three decades. It is also the birthplace of many high-tech enterprises.