'Arabic' art - MADE IN CHINA

On Wednesday I received a call from the The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, for a last minute assignment in Panyu, China.

They wanted me to photograph an "artist" who runs a business copying photos of original paintings. Those paintings are usually Arabian-themed, and are sent to him by his Dubai client/business partner.

Ma Zhengcheng, the "artist" in question, has a growing concern churning out these art copies. He has three "studios". One in Dongguan, two in Panyu, all near Guangzhou in China. But excuse the inverted commas. To me this just ain't art.

Don't get me wrong. Mr Ma's a nice guy. We got on well. So much so that I dragged and dropped a few of my photos to his desktop before I left. And I helped him paint a camel. He didn't ask me for the pictures, I just wanted to help him. He said he'll probably use them for marketing, for his web site when he gets one. 

The belly dancer in the painting behind Mr Ma is considered risqué in the United Arab Emirates. This is despite the fact that only her face and forearms are uncovered. No wonder The National didn't publish it.

Each "studio" is actually more like a small factory. Several rooms to a floor, with one, maybe two, "artists" to a room. The workers are mostly in their twenties, and a few teenagers too. But I'm sure this work beats the production line.

The kids knock out pretty good, but by no means perfect, copies of whatever they are given by Mr Ma to work on that day. 

French impressionism. I'm stuck for the original artist's name though. Any ideas, answers on a postcard, or post a comment below.

The kids know that they have to knock them out fast too. This Tutankhamun took about an hour. King Tut would have been proud. Howard Carter would have been astounded. Quick turnaround is the name of the game.

For some reason, triptychs seemed to be very popular. I saw many "artists" painting them. I'm thinking that maybe they are destined for office receptions, boardrooms, dental surgeries - those kinds of places. What I saw was art that doesn't challenge. Art that doesn't make you think. Doesn't hurt your brain. We've all seen it. On the wall, to brighten it up a bit, but not to be admired. It's usually just there. Possibly to the right of an air con unit, or maybe opposite a ceiling-mounted digital projector. Dust-covered after a few years, but mundane from the start. There's a huge market out there for this kind stuff. I know that now.

But back to Tutankhamun. Next time you are on holiday and want to buy a souvenir of that place, just make sure it's not MADE IN CHINA. Unless, of course, you are in China.

Read the full story in the weekend section of The National here.

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011