Eye on the future

Updated: 2011-11-04 08:55

By Liu Lu (China Daily)

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Urban village looks to establish a lasting, original presence on global art map

After two decades of rapid growth propelled by sales of oil painting reproductions, Dafen is now reinventing itself as the destination of choice for original art. Part of the reason why Dafen, an urban village in the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, is looking to shed its tinged reputation lies in the intense competition from home and abroad and also to some extent in the growing preference for original artworks among Chinese buyers. "Our aim is to make Dafen the dream place for original artwork by Chinese artists, much on the lines of what Hollywood is to global filmmakers," says Peng Gang, director of the Dafen village administrative office and the curator of the Dafen Museum of Fine Arts.

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According to Peng, the endeavor of all future efforts are trained at changing the paintings tagged with labels like "made in Dafen'" to "created in Dafen."

"What this means is more than the change to a single word. Rather it signifies the resolution of an entire village to upgrade its business model by striving for originality," he says.

"Imitation works have made Dafen a world-famous art zone and greatly supported the growth of the local economy. But it is the original paintings that will help Dafen gain a foothold in the high-end international art market in the future," Peng says, adding that many artists have already shifted to creation of original art works.

But what sets Dafen apart from other global art villages is the slew of orderly arranged oil painting workshops and the distinctive artistic atmosphere.

Spread over 405 hectares, the small village already has the reputation of being the largest mass producer of copied oil paintings in the world, and accounts for over 60 percent of the global total trade volume in oil paintings.

"It is not an exaggeration that at least 50 percent of the oil paintings hung on the walls in the United States and Europe are from Dafen," says Zhou Xiaohong, vice-president of the Art Industry Association in Dafen.

As one of the first artists in Dafen, Zhou has witnessed the dramatic transformation of the village from a poor fishing hamlet inhabited by about 300 people in the late 1980s to the world's leading oil painting manufacturing hub, which now boasts more than 6,000 painters and 1,100 art galleries, studios, and art-related businesses.

Eye on the future

Dafen village in Shenzhen is home to more than 6,000 painters and 1,100 art galleries, studios and other art-related businesses. [Provided to China Daily]

According to the Shenzhen statistics bureau, the output value of Dafen's oil painting business was 3.5 billion yuan ($550 million, 400 million euros) in 2010, and it is likely to surpass the 4-billion-yuan mark this year.

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