A living network that promotes and supports the small businesses and community initiatives that are crucial to the well-being of our neighborhoods.
Art-against-high-culture is alive and well at Dafen Oil Painting village. This “village” began as a cluster of small shops selling art in a corner of Shenzhen. Today, it’s mushroomed into several acres of narrow alleys filled with small shops making, trading, framing, and fixing art – mostly oil paintings, but also watercolors, photographs, etchings, and sculpture – basically anything used nominally for decoration.
Records have it that Dafen has a hand in anywhere from 60% to 70% of the global market for art that ends up on the walls of hotels, shopping malls, and commercial buildings. This art is to hotels what muzak is to elevators. It’s unobtrusive background filler, and nothing that you would actually remember.
What I like about Dafen is not only the anti-high-culture attitude – but also the fact that it is mostly made up of 个体户 (individual entrepreneurs) who are artists themselves, craftsmen, or simply people who want to make art accessible, and replicable, for everyone. They are all part of the Dafen network—since what you see on-site is a small portion of the art supply chain that goes through Dafen. iThe artists and materials might not all be located in Dafen but the orchestration takes place here.
The Dafen network provides a way for the many graduates of China’s art institutes to make a living while improving their skills for the day that they can “make it” as an artist. They’re open to conversation. You could come here for an entire day and just rove around and talk to the artists running their own shops.
Of course, there are people trying to make this a global business; the government also tried to muscle in on the scene by building an enormous black granite-like contemporary art museum on one side of the village. It basically stopped any further growth of the village on that side. But all this is sideshow, since they have not squeezed out the individuals. So far it seems to be working fairly well. It’s worth a visit before it all changes!