Librarians-in-Residence: Public Programming


Tian Jiayi, Feixuan Xu, Kiki Tianqi Yu

Asymmetry, 102a Albion Drive, London E8 4LY
5-8PM, 14.06.2024

With Dafen Oil Painting Village as its spotlight, ‘Copying and Creation’ is a screening and discursive programme focusing on China's Van Goghs (2016, 82’00”) and 14 Paintings (2023, 24’00”), two documentary films about the world's largest oil painting reproduction industry located in Shenzhen, China. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion between Kiki TianqiYu, one of the co-directors of China's Van Goghs, and Tian Jiayi, a sociologist who has conducted extensive field research in Dafen Village. Moderated by our Courtauld Post-doctoral Fellow Feixuan Xu, the panel will discuss how the opposition between replication and creation in contemporary China is collectively navigated by different entities and how these two concepts are, in fact, interdependent.

In Dafen Village, anonymous migrant workers transform into self-taught ‘artists’, exemplifying the widely criticised Chinese model of art replication that allegedly lacks originality. China's Van Goghs (2016) documents the challenges, struggles, and hope experienced by Dafen Village painter Zhao Xiaoyong during his transition from reproducing Van Gogh’s paintings to acting on his creative projects. The film also explores the painter’s self-reflection, moral ambivalence, and artistic pursuits in the face of the tasks of replicating iconic oil paintings by masters in European art history. Zhao's journey underlines a critique against the exclusivity of the mainstream contemporary art world and the absurdity of societal, cultural and economic values assigned to artworks. In response, 14 Paintings (2023) provides an update on the evolution of this form of artistic production in Dafen Village. Driven by new policies from the Shenzhen government, thousands of Dafen painters are moving away from copying towards original creation. The film conducts a field study on fourteen paintings from Dafen and presents an exhibition dedicated to these artists, who must reassess their complex identities in the interstices of art, commerce, and rapidly changing social reality.



Tian Jiayi is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Within the realms of cultural sociology and the sociology of the arts, his research seeks to understand the meaning of creativity for self-taught artists in contemporary China and how it shapes their artmaking. He is also interested in artists’ identity, cultural governance, and the cultural change in modern and contemporary China. He now serves as the PhD representative at the Sociology of the Arts Study Group of BSA. His first peer-reviewed article appeared on Cultural Sociology, which discussed the identity transformation of Dafen painters.

Feixuan Xu is an anthropologist specialising in anthropology of art, multispecies ethnography and ecocriticism. She obtained a PhD in Creative Media from City University of Hong Kong in 2022. Her ethnography-based doctoral thesis scrutinises how the Daoist concept ‘ziran’ was paradoxically implemented in artist Liang Shaoji’s collaboration with silkworms assisted by farmers and biologists. Feixuan’s current research centres on labour, sensory knowledge, situated ethics and non-alienated curation in multispecies art.

She received the Fulbright Research Scholar Award 2019/2020, being hosted by New York University for six months. Feixuan also holds an MA in Socio-cultural Anthropology from Durham University and a BA in English from Beijing Language and Culture University. From 2016 to 2017, she worked as an editor at Dolphin Books of China International Publishing Group. From 2016 to 2019, she worked part-time with the Education Department of Shanghai Museum for the public education programme ‘Museums and Ancient American Civilization’. Feixuan is the recipient of the 2022-24 Asymmetry Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Kiki Tianqi Yu is a filmmaker, scholar, and film curator. She is Senior Lecturer in Film at Queen Mary University of London. Her research, in theory and by practice, explores cinema and moving image art in relation to decoloniality, personal expressions, eastern philosophies, with a focus on creative documentary, women’s cinema and Sinophone cinema. Her books include 'My' Self on Camera: First Person Documentary Practice in an Individualising China (2019), China’s iGeneration (2014). Kiki’s award-winning films include Photographing Shenzhen (2006), Memory of Home (2009), China’s van Goghs (2016), and The Two Lives of Li Ermao (2019), shown at IDFA, Vision du Reel, Thessaloniki, Helsinki DocPoint, the Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival, BFI, V&A, etc. Her curatorial projects include ‘Polyphonic China: Chinese independent documentary’ (London 2009), ‘Memory Talks: Personal Cinema’ (Shanghai 2017), ‘The Spirit of Mountains and Water: Gao Shiqiang’s moving image art’(2023), and ‘Dancing With Water: Women’s cinema from contemporary China’ (2024).