Planned obsolescence? The Dafen Lisa and Shenzhen Identity

507 artists worked on the  Dafen Lisa for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. However, as the City beautifies for the next big international event (the Universiade), the piece was targeted for removal because it does not conform to (ever changing) urban plans. Unexpectedly, the decision was successfully protested because the scale of Dafen’s collective copy of the Mona Lisa has produced a cultural item that is recognized as being unique to Shenzhen, which in turn, has led to debates about “to raze or not to raze (拆,还是不拆).”

This debate interests because it speaks to Shenzheners’ increasing recognition that over the past thirty years, what they have done is valuable and worthwhile, no matter what other people think. The birth, if you will, of civic pride against the very standards that were once the city’s raison d’être. Here’s the quote:

深圳为大运会整顿市容本没有错,街道、城管相关部门没有错。政府关注的是安全、规范、整洁;媒体关注的是文化艺术氛围,艺术家与画工关注的则是生存与创造环境。若果一定要说错,那可能是我们的文化错了:在一次次国际盛会面前,我们是如此“激动”,以至于显得不太自信。

Shenzhen is not wrong to beautify the city for the universiade, the relevant street and city departments are also not wrong. The government is concerned with safety, order, and tidiness; the media is concerned about cultural and artistic atmosphere, artists and art workers are concerned about their living and creative environment. Perhaps if we have to say something is wrong, maybe its that our culture is wrong: in international event after international event, we become this “excited”, which makes us seem to lack self-confidence.

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