Documentary paints an authentic picture of a Shenzhen art counterfeiter [Review]

Documentary paints an authentic picture of a Shenzhen art counterfeiter [Review]

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China has Van Goghs too.
Photo: The Metroplex

By following the life of Zhao Xiaoyong, an oil painter from Dafen in Shenzhen, documentary China’s Van Goghs takes us to the heart of the village where hundreds of peasants-turned-painters replicate classical Western paintings day and night. 

Having painted about 100,000 Van Goghs with his family, Zhao feels a special bond with the world-famous artist. He finally saves enough money to realise his dream of visiting Amsterdam to see Van Gogh’s originals for himself. 

After seeing the paintings, Zhao is suddenly driven to question himself, and is inspired to create original art and find his own voice. 


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China’s Van Goghs is an authentic portrayal of Zhao’s life. We see him at work, with his family, talking with colleagues and in his hotel room in the Netherlands. 

By using little background music, the director leaves Zhao’s emotional moments open to interpretation without trying to sensationalise them. 

As well as documenting Zhao’s life, the film shows the reality and hardships of the workers in Dafen, supported with facts and figures. It gives the audience a chance to reflect on the role of art in the modern world when forgeries are everywhere. What does art mean when it is a mass-produced good, and eight counterfeit Western paintings a day can be completed at Dafen?

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This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Peasant who became a painter

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