Category: Exhibition
Principal Architect: Meng Yan

Chief Curator & Executor: URBANUS Architecture & Design, Inc.

Project Manager: Lin Yilin
Project Architect: Rao Enchen
Architecture Team: Huang Yihong, Chen Lansheng, Wang Yuan
Event Planner: Zhang Yun, Zhang Dandan, Xing Yue


The mural on the façade of the Shenzhen pavilion is an integral part of the collective painting of the outer wall. The façade is composed of a large mural + multimedia installation encompassing an area of 43m×7m, or around 300m2. All painters in the village are encouraged to engage in the collaborative painting event, and each painter is entitled to sign on their artworks. In doing so, we hope to mobilize virtually every Dafen resident to participate in the World Expo, hence raising the art event to a society-wide cultural event. Each painter will submit his or her own artwork which will then be incorporated into a huge mosaic within pre-defined frames. All artworks will then be transported from Dafen to Shanghai. The final artwork will remain a mystery until it is completely assembled and unveiled at the Shanghai exposition site.


Dafen Lisa, conceptual painting + video installation

“This is not Mona Lisa”


Five hundred years ago at the peak of Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci painted the portrait of Mona Lisa with her charming, mysterious smile. Created by one of the greatest artists in human history, this image has been a shared symbol for humanity through many centuries. The Mona Lisa is the queen residing high in the palace of art and as a cultural symbol becomes the most frequent reproduced popular consumer art product.

Over the past century, her smiling face has also been manipulated or recreated ad infinitum by artists throughout the world to derive new concepts, pose new challenges and provoke critical thinking about the fundamental issues in art.

On Jan. 28th 2010, this eternal image had its renaissance. Over the past twenty years, the Mona Lisa along with other classic artworks, have been reproduced repeatedly in an obscure village in Southern China, and then shipped around the world, transcending their original birthplaces and cultural milieu. Unlike Marcel Duchamp in the early twentieth century who satirically added a moustache on the smiling face, here in Dafen village, it is neither an individual artist’s experimentation, nor a mere copy of a classic, it is a collaborative creation – a conceptual art piece involving more than 500 Dafen painters.

The transformation of Dafen village epitomes the rapid urbanization of Shenzhen over the past thirty years, while the collective image of Dafen painters represents the society at large in this youthful city. Most of them come from South China, some are college graduates freshly out of art school, and some are young migrants who have never touched a paintbrush before. It is these people, with their hard work and their persistent, deeply heartfelt, pursuit of the direct and simple dream of change. This was the driving force that pushed this little village into the globalization process. Artwork production transformed Dafen village, a remote Hakka community, into an important link in the global art manufacturing chain, and facilitated the integration of Dafen village into the surrounding city. During this growth process, art production is also continuously influencing artisans and art manufacturers, while the cultural connotations of the artwork are reshaping the residents.

“Dafen Lisa – this is not Mona Lisa” It points to the core. This declaration is redolent of the anecdote of Magritte, father of conceptual art in the last century. He once added a note next to his painting of a tobacco pipe saying, “This is not a pipe”. As the creator’s identity and the context have both shifted, Mona Lisa is no longer the Mona Lisa we originally knew, or Mona Lisa was renewed under the distinctive context of Dafen village. “Dafen Lisa” is a new species, a species born in Shenzhen – a newly emergent city that new species have thrived in, over the past thirty years.

The huge portrait of Dafen Lisa comes in at 43 meters long and 7 meters high, constituting the front facade of Shenzhen Case Pavilion. Reading and discovering the hidden secret of this huge mural, you will find the key code to enter this pavilion. It is comprised of 999 oil painting units with sizes slightly varying from each other. Images on each of these oil painting units are decomposed, pixilated, and reshaped into layers and bodies of colors, contours and blocks. At the same time, the original style of each painting is retained with different genres, brushes, strokes, techniques and hues. All these variations are well protected, so inside the huge mural, there are hundreds of unique, distinctive abstract paintings, each reserving its original texture and artistic message. This variated, pixilated composition conveys the very essence of this mural, while preserving each individual painter’s identity, individualality and mindset at the time they were painting their portion of this gargantuan collaborative work.     

The decomposed, pixilated oil paintings are embedded into exquisite aluminum frames. Seams are intentionally left between the frames, varying progressively in width from 3 cm to 15 cm. With LEDs mounted behind the frames lighting up the backboard, gives the illusion that the 999 paintings are floating on a sea. The progressively widened light seams draw the attention of visitors, who are further led by floating light-spots to the entrance. The entrance is like a doorway leading into the huge mural, welcoming and drawing a person in. At this moment, the hidden LCD screens within the painting frames start simultaneously to display animated pictures and a scene of Shekou Mountain thirty years ago being blasted away. Then the founding of the Shenzhen special economic zone looms into view and begins the multi-media presentation telling the origins of Shenzhen.

Carefully examined, an inconspicuous name can be noticed at the corner of each oil painting unit. These are obscure names, names of the common painters. These people are the creators of the Dafen Lisa. However, visitors may not know that behind each painting, there are ages, places of origin and a sentence describing the painter’s dream. These secrets and behind-the-scene stories can only be discovered when visitors start to explore the pavilion.


Date: Jan 28th, Thu, 2010
Location: Front Plaza, Dafen Art Museum, Dafen Village, Longgang, Shenzhen

Sponsor: Shenzhen Municipal Government
Co-organizer: Shenzhen Municipal Government of Longgang District
Organizer: Shenzhen Municipal Commission of Urban Planning and Land Resources
Media Support: Shenzhen Press Group, Shenzhen Media Group