located in buji town, dafen village is (in)famous for the assembly line production of copies of famous works of art, usually western masters. dafen artists pride themselves on making authentic copies, giving attention brush struck, style, and feeling. all for as little as US$ 10.
i have visited dafen village several times this summer and have yet to persuade myself to buy a souvenir painting. not that i need to. i already have a dafen souvenir, which a friend gave me after her hong kong shop went under. (she tried to cash in on the hong kong passion for interior make-overs by selling dafen copies in hong kong.) as it stands, my reluctance to purchase a dafen painting intrigues me. after all, living in shenzhen i regularly buy pirated dvds and cds; i also buy “improved upon” copies at luohu mall at the hong kong-shenzhen border. my l.v. billfold, for example, has giant flower smiley faces, which i haven’t seen on any authentic l.v. i wear knock-offs when i can’t find what i’m looking for in outlets. moreover, i live in a housing development that looks like housing developments all over the city; my apartment is itself a reproducible unit in a mass produced building. and even on superficial reflection, i remember buying posters of great works of art to hang on my college dorm wall.
the only other area of my life as a consumer, where i seem as resolutely committed to originality seems culinary. yet here again, the question is not so much one of whether or not a dish can be reproduced (after all the sign of a top chef is the ability to reproduce the same taste day in and out), but rather one of freshness; i enjoy fresh vegetables, unfrozen meets, and innovative tastes. i want the same on my walls. or so i tell myself as i look at the mass produced spring festival couplet i have hung on my door (年年如意新春乐；岁岁平安合家欢) with glittered chicken.
my reluctance to purchase a copy found its counterpart in the pictures i took while there; i again found myself looking sideways at what was happening. i ended up photographing an unintentional street performance. however, yu haibo of the shenzhen economic daily won at the 2006 world press press photo of the year contest for his photos of dafen village. eastsouthwestnorth provides a translation of 天方乱谭‘s analysis of yu’s photos and how representative they are of china.
those interested in purchasing a dafen oil painting can order directly from various websites (dafen village dot com and dafen dot net). the people’s daily provides a brief history of dafen.