Strolling around the streets of Shenzhen, virtually anyone you ask will know a bit about Dafen Village (大芬村). In other Chinese cities, this is also rather likely. Even abroad, the village has become rather famous in the last few decades—at least with a vast majority of art dealers, who know it as the place in China (and perhaps the world) to buy replicas of famous paintings, for better or worse.
With an original population of only a few hundred residents —mainly of the Hakka ethnic minority—Dafen started out as an incredibly ordinary southern Chinese village. Then, things changed in 1989, when a Hong Kong painter and businessman by the name of Huang Jiang (黄江) showed up, brining a dozen or so oil painters with him. Renting a private house, Huang started his own domestic business specializing in the "retouching, acquisition and exportation" (i.e. replication) of famous oil paintings. As foreign demand for his replicas grew, he continued to bring in more artists to help him complete orders, and expanded the scale of his operations considerably. Today, Dafen Oil Painting Village covers an area of 4 sq. km, houses more than 800 replica galleries, and employs more than 10,000 painters. The operation has becoming something of a household name, and is often referred to as "China's premier painting village".
What can you buy in Dafen?
While the area is best known for its eerily accurate, inexpensive replicas of Da Vinci, Dali, Monet and Gauguin's masterpieces, there's so much more to find here. You can also purchase original paintings, calligraphy, sculptures, arts and crafts and even supplies in the various small shops located throughout the village. It is also possible to commission local artists for paintings at surprisingly low prices. Although it's impossible to give a completely accurate price quote, in general, replica paintings in Dafen go for 150 RMB and up, depending on size, complexity and quality, of course.
Bringing masterpieces into the homes of ordinary people
While many have questioned the legality or ethical nature of such an operation, the village mostly focuses on artists' paintings long since out of copyright (*cough* Warhol, Dali *cough*). And besides, these works can only be seen by a limited number of rich collectors; those able to trek off to far away museums. Moreover, the village makes explicitly clear which works are originals and which are replicas to ensure that there's no confusion when you walk away with a giant copy of the Mona Lisa to hang on your bedroom wall.
Really, the best argument in defense of an operation like Dafen is as follows: 1) It openly acknowledges what it is; 2) Many of the artists there, while not making a ton of money, would definitely be worse off trying to make a living painting elsewhere; and 3) it allows ordinary people to "own" their favorite works of art for prices in the hundreds of kuai, not the hundreds of millions of dollars. And apparently, many people agree with this sentiment, as Dafen Village has become a major tourist attraction in Shenzhen, especially for Hong Kong, Macau and foreign tourists, who can frequently be seen leaving the village carrying multiple wrapped up paintings with them.
Visiting Dafen Oil Painting Village
You'll know you've found Dafen Village, which is a gated community, by the large sculpture of a hand holding a paintbrush that can be seen outside of its gates. When you enter the village, you'll quickly notice that seemingly every cm of the place is covered with something related to painting, with alley after alley of small shops open to cater to your every artistic need. Be sure to come early in the day so that you can spend at least several hours perusing the village's many galleries, while taking in the oddly pleasing artistic atmosphere of the place.
Not without a sense of irony, signs stating that "picture taking is forbidden" can be found on the doors to many of the galleries in the village. If you absolutely must have a photo of this surreal setting, be sure to buddy up with a local shop owner and buy several paintings first, and then ask for their consent to snap a few shots. And like with most outdoor attractions in China, it's best to visit Dafen Village on a sunny day, as it's unlikely that local galleries will be displaying their paintings on the streets during a torrential thunderstorm.
Shop Dafen Village, OnlineView In Map
If you're unable to make it to Dafen personally, but would still like to partake in the village's artistic wares, then head over to their online store (listed below) where you can peruse and order from a listing of some of their more famous replicas, as well as original works, cheap pieces and things like picture frames. Any pieces that you commission can be tailor made to the dimensions you specify. The website is only partially in English, so make sure you have a Chinese friend help you order if you aren't fluent yourself.
Where: 300-400 m diagonally opposite of the Buji neighborhood's government building, Longgang District, Shenzhen
Getting there: take the Metro Longgang Line to Dafen Station (大芬站), or take bus No. 300路区间, 306, 371, 371区, 376, 379, 383, 822, 836, b665, e2, k359, m309 to Dafen Oil Painting Village (大芬油画村站)
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Keywords: Shenzhen Dafen Oil Painting Village replica paintings in China
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