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Where the art sells

The one place I wanted to visit during my holidays was Dafen Oil Painting Village, a suburb of Shenzhen in China. I learnt about the place from the documentary on YouTube a while ago, China’s Van Goghs (2016). For some reason, the full documentary was available and I had a mixed feeling about it. Mostly, I was uncomfortable to watch it while knowing the producers intentionally made the man visit Europe to witness how cheap his works were regarded and sold to the tourists. The documentary was an art of manipulation, but who can naively believe that it is all real?

Regardless of my impression on the film, I was still deeply intrigued by the place, where the artworks get mass-produced and sold to the world. Luckily, my itinerary included Shenzhen and I could not help myself not visiting there.

I did not plan it but I went there on a weekday and that accidental decision was well complimented by the shop owners since the whole town gets extremely crowded during the weekend. I guess I am not the only one who moved by the film.

One thing about China is that the size does matter. The number of painting shops there is astonishing and you just have to nod to the statement in the tourism booklet saying 60 per cent of all new oil paintings available worldwide produced from this town.

The town made a name for itself in the late 1980s by reproducing works by famous Western artists like Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt for the global market. Rightfully so, there is an endless supply of replicas, some look like almost photocopied and there are others have been re-interpreted. As an artist, how can you resist the idea of engraving your *own* touch?

However, there are also numerous art studios focusing on their own original work. After all, they are talented artists themselves and the grand building of Dafen Art Museum was a undeniable evidence that the government also wants to promote the originality of their talented people. Interestingly though, I was able to take photos freely. First, I could not find any sign of no photography, but also the security guard seemed genuinely indifferent to my photo taking. I do not have much knowledge of the world of oil painting in general, but the exhibition included a variety of skilfully original artworks. The hidden masters do exist everywhere.

At the end of the day, I purchased 3 paintings. It would be a shame to come home with empty hands, and these three only cost me AUD$40. Probably routinely painted by some anonymous kid I photographed in the dark alley without any emotions attached to them. And that’s the exact type of paints I needed to get. Adios Dafen.

Thanks for visiting


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