Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Rhetoric and History of Art, University of California / Berkeley

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2008
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
After the Copy: China, Dafen Village and the Hand-Painted Art Product

Since 1989, Dafen village, located outside the border of China's Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, has been transforming itself into the global production center for handmade oil paintings, supplying transnational retail and consumer markets with hand-painted versions of existing works of art, and more recently, original and custom-designed canvases. This dissertation utilizes a case study of Dafen village to historicize shifting conceptions of originality in a transnational frame vis a vis China's post-Mao liberalization. It traces the mobility of the copy in China's 20th century, examining how constructs of originality and copying are formed through a nexus of regulatory regimes and artistic cultures. Detailing its emergence in the transnational hand-painted art industry, the study examines how Dafen village is produced as a space for the mass-production of art, and shows how regulation, migration and export manufacturing operate as key spatial practices of the Chinese regulatory regime. Through analysis of Dafen village's diverse enterprises, networks, organizational structures, labor units, and training programs, I explore the hierarchies, categories, and market formations of artistic skill at Dafen village and show how imitation and innovation are skilled, de-skilled and re-skilled. In tracing transnational modes and markets of the copy, my study questions when and where the layering of origins becomes important to the consumption and production of the work of art in the global frame. Instead of asking what China reproduces, it asks, through what operations and in what conditions is originality made an unfixed, reproducible, and mobile "art product"?