Surely these children weren’t all born in galleries! Who were they? Where were their parents? Gallivanting carelessly from door to door, these young vagabonds didn’t seem to be related to the humble gallery owners.

I witnessed a young master in the making. The young man made it be known that I could purchase his “Doran Cat in Blue II” for 50RMB. Slightly amused by the surge of cheekiness, his teacher joked about the sheer lack of ambition in spoilt heiress of Dafen. It was no quick quip. There was more to this tension than meets the eye…

As a first impression the teacher seemed to be doing well for himself, establishing one of the largest private galleries within the village. He eagerly recounted experiences with “parasitic” landlords feeding off of his hard work. A bucket was his tea/bay advice bureau for other desperate painters seeking advice regarding rental troubles.

His gallery was a little more than a fish-tank porch. In fact, I was the only person who could fit inside the mass glass frame of his mosaic of paintings. Visitor really would have no choice other than to become intimate with the brushstrokes. To prove a point he told me that most artists painted at night, where they had the space to lay out sketches on the street. There wasn’t a lot of light at night, so paintings were colour by number creations of patterns by moonlight.

My notion of process for promotion was challenged by a necessity for space. The artists were living in expensive cells. Negativity towards the landlords, the profiteers of an artistic area with no regard for the producers, was aggravated by a rent constantly escalated by its reputation. The original locals self-elected their displacement to both profit and escape.

Estate agents roam the streets, hounding down anyone with a potential pair of ears. Road sweepers, with nowhere to go, became the perfect targets for an inexperienced young sales representative. My quest for heritage turned instead to a search for the original locals. Then I heard rumours about a mythical “New Dafen” village.

New Dafen was a dream apartment that would have stood proudly amidst metropolis in China. The 16-floored ‘village’ floated above a four-story shopping mall. Overlooking the old village, the residents of the land-in-the-sky didn’t want any tourists distracted from their golden goose. I step into a realm where my new friends only murmured…

In response to malls in Old Dafen that exclusively sold paintings, the mall under New Dafen was dedicated to interiors. Oak doors, spiral staircases and Arthenian fountains congregated to shortcut culture with surplus income. After witnessing the desire to invest and reinvent, I geared myself for the temple of luxury that was New Dafen.

After qualifying extensive security checks, I wondered in what seemed to be a permanent holiday resort. This was a classic example of community. The whole village decided to move here en-mass. The villagers’ traditional way of life, fishing and agriculture was removed by the something that displaced them from their daily activities and even their original location. ‘Artification’ is simultaneously responsible for a generation of unmotivated individuals as well as a community to accomplish improving their condition and cohesion. What’s an antonym for gentrification?

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.

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