China is well known for all manor of fakery – be it consumer electronics, clothing, pharmaceuticals, DVDs, food and just about anything else you can imagine. They even have a word for these products; shanzhai (山寨).

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Last weekend I took a trip to see Dafen Oil Painting Village whose sole purpose is basically to mass produce copies of western art to be sold to shops, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and tasteless consumers across the world. Located in Longgang District, Shenzhen the village boasts over 5,000 artists working in 600+ galleries who churn out over 5 million paintings each year. Needless to say that’s a lot of paintings!

Mona Lisa?

Masquerading as an artistic community of sorts the endeavour is clearly one of a business rather than anything remotely artistic in the true sense of the word. The quality of the work is dubious at best yet it remains a fascinating place if only as a curiosity in a land where they don’t do things by halves.

Sir David!

From the Mona Lisa to Van Gogh, David Beckham, world leaders/dictators and vulgar nudes this place has it all in bulk.

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Wandering around an area saturated with hand-produced copies of the worlds most famous art I was reminded of a subtle link to one of my favourite philosophic concepts; hyperreality:

The fluid reality that spans the territory between the real and the fake, between simulations and the hyperreal, between the authentic and counterfeit, is the slippery territory where we all now live. This blurred continent is Philip K. Dick‘s universe, and the land of reality TV, and the home of pirates. There is something deeply disturbing about our inability to tell real from unreal (who can discern a fake diamond from real?), or to care about it. As the post-modernists maintain, sometimes the fake is so real, it becomes realer than real (hyperreal) and we come to prefer it. [Source: CT2]

Thanks to Defan the world is now populated with enough fake Mona Lisa’s to confuse even the most persistent Da Vinci code hunters! In China the line between what is real and what is reproduction is rarely clear-cut from a layman’s perspective. Personally I still can’t understand why anyone would want a soulless fake but it’s clearly good business. Taste on the other hand cannot be brought.

Van Gogh?

You can find Dafen by taking bus 306 from Louhu station. Should you want to make a purchase remember to bargain hard!

Comments

  1. David says:

    Thanks for your insight Rebecca!

    It totally understand and appreciate your opinion. My point is mainly about the appreciation of these works as individual pieces of “art”. Can we call a fake Mona Lisa really a piece of art? I don’t think so because there is no emotional connection between the painter and the piece ~ the work is simply a technical copy or interpretation of the original.

    At the end of the day there is nothing wrong with buying or owning a reproduction as long as you understand exactly what you’re getting.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Hi David,I am no going to give any different opinion on here,because it really happening in China,the market are full of fake things.There are a lot of reason why this happening so normal in China,I am not sure what I going to say is right or not,just my own opinion:

    firstly,China is a very poor country at before,when other countries people are enjoying comfortable life,people still worrying about the meals for everyday,how can people pay attention to the quality of products,what they need is things can fulfill their desire,quality is not at the first status.as people get used to this,they will not pay attention to if what they are doing is infringe.so things of copyright is not so important in their eyes.

    Secondly,most rich people will buy the real things,but for most poor people they cannt pay so much to buy that.some of them will buy the things not famous but real,for the others,the care the brand more than the quality,so they buy the fake things.the problem is there have some products have the same quality with the real things,even better.they use little money to get a fake thing but same quality.why not? The reason of why so many pirate users emerge is that on the one hand, it is related to “poor”, and what is more is that something is emerging in our hearts.

    And there are still have a lot of other reasons,sorry for my limited time now so I only can wrote down this.The important thing is how can Chinese government changed this problem.it is very hard,not only the law,but also people’s mind,this is more hard to change.what I can sure is as people’s life getting better,they will begin to chase the high quality life,and they will pay more attention to the real thing.on the other hand can copy a fake thing as good as a real one is a ability,what I think is if the Chinese people can use this kind of ability to create our own brand?

  3. David says:

    Yeah, there are very few places in the world where living artists make profit!

    China’s education system is a whole other topic but I can see the link you make. I think if China changed things to focus less on just memorizing text books for examinations to fostering true learning though self exploration that would produce a far more creative society.

  4. Rebecca says:

    At first I want to give some comment about the Dafen Village,but at last I gave comment about the fake things in China.I think what art different from other products is art has soul.I think in the village there have some good artists,maybe at first they hope to express the feeling through art,but at last life force them to change as copy from the real arts can make more money.so they got to this village.it is a sad thing if people’s creativity stopped ,it will be a big loss in China’s art world.as you know,we also have our educational system problem,a lot of our ability like creativity were distroied by mark.if it is famous by it’s product sales quantity?it is no difference like we get high mark at school.what a sad village.

  5. Theron says:

    I like DaFen Cun. You’re right about the tastelessness of a majority of the works there. I’ve had a couple of my mountain climbing photos recreated here for myself and as gifts for my climbing buds. We are all quite happy with the results. Perhaps that’s one way that you can get something nice there.

  6. Joy says:

    Do u still remember the story I told u about what I tried not to do and finally did in Dafen?hehe

  7. Seema says:

    Hi David, very precise and informative. I’m off to Dafen tomorrow, was wondering if you could tell me if I take the bus, is it the last stop? How long is the journey to Dafen? Approximately how much would it cost us if we took a taxi from Lohwu station?

    Thanks

    • David says:

      Hi Seema, it’s not the last stop but you can see it pretty clearly see when you arrive since there is a big sign outside. The journey takes about 30-40 mins if I remember correctly.

      It would probably be quicker by taxi and cost approx 50 RMB (but don’t hold me to that!).

      Hope this helps.

  8. kevin says:

    A few days ago, I bought a handmade oil painting online . The customer service said, all of their paintings are from Dafen Oil Painting Village, China. I personally feel the oil paitning very good, all hand-drawn, are of high quality canvas backing.

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  10. Alimo says:

    Hi everyone,

    Could someone please tell me how to get to Dafen fromj Huaqiangbeilu? I can go to Lohu station too.
    It would be great if some wrote the village name in Chinese or pingying.

    Thanx in advance

  11. R says:

    Hi Alimo,you can take bus NO. 306 from Luo hu xiao xue罗湖小学 ( the bus station in front of Kingglory Plaza), it is directly goes to Dafen.
    P.S. Kingglory Plaza(金光华广场 Jin Guang Hua Guang Chang) is at the subway station Guo mao(国贸).
    Hope it helpful:)

  12. Aby says:

    Btw all these paople want to paint orignal ideas however most people want to buy famous woks of art. They haveto produce what will bring in income. We should never judge another person/country since we do not know how they’re surviving. It’s supply and demand. They have many talented artists!

  13. Van says:

    What is art? The people who do own a real Van Gogh, do you really think they put the REAL one on display? no… they put a fake or a copied one on their wall and have the real one in a climate controlled safe. So if you are lucky enough to be in their office, are you going to say “thats not art because its fake?”

    So really they are not buying art, they are buying ownership of something that is of intrinsic value. What is art worth? is it its age? is it its material cost of canvas and paint? is it the artists skill? you can take all these things in to account but at the end of the day if you don’t like it, its worth $0 to you.

    Besides, you don’t have to buy a copy of the mona lisa or van gogh, just buy the many thousands of abstract and landscape and modern stuff they have there, which is just as good as what you would buy at a champaign sipping auction, and i would know many people that would love to decorate their walls with art, but it is not within their means.

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