Category Archives: China

Trace Evidence: An Art Exhibition and Panel Discussion at Minnesota Street Project

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Trace Evidence
Curated by Annie Malcolm and Rachelle Reichert
Exhibition September 8th – 29th
Opening event + Panel: September 11, 2018
Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco

Trace Evidence is an exhibition and a panel discussion at Minnesota Street Project, in partnership with SFMOMA Public Dialogue, in which the curators—2019 GUH Fellow Annie Malcolm and artist Rachelle Reichert—will convene visual artists from China and the U.S. who are considering issues of environmental change focused on China. Trace Evidence will take place in San Francisco in September 2018, during the Global Climate Action Summit, and is formally affiliated with GCAS.  The curators are interested in interrogating the work of art as a platform for cross-cultural conversation about climate change. Annie Malcolm discusses the conception of the exhibition and its connection to her research on Chinese art villages.

Americans gaze over to China and see the physical conditions produced by late capitalism magnified because of the scale and speed of development. China’s processes of industrialization and urbanization have degraded their environment in parallel fashion to US industrialization but, due to its rapid progress, they are uniquely perceptible.

Thinking with Timothy Morton, we conceive of climate change as a hyperobject (Morton 2013): its entirety can never be seen, yet it affects everything. How are artists taking the visual elements of climate change, pollution, and extraction and making them accessible? How are artists trying to see this thing that is impossible to see but felt everyday? Climate change is a form of slow violence (Rob Nixon 2013), harming and displacing people, enacting violence at a slower speed than violence usually occurs; climate change forces the rethinking of timescales.

The work we will show in this exhibition deals with these issues on different levels of directness. Some of the work offers the opportunity to meditate on the questions, think about scale, and be in a sensible relationship to place, landscape and environment; other works expose the viewer to the violence of extraction and the factors at work in climate change. By exhibiting both American and Chinese artists, this exhibition will look from the outside while addressing the area from within.

Coming to Berkeley to start my Ph.D. in Anthropology in 2013, my plan was to study art worlds in Beijing. In 2015, however, after my experience in the GUH studio course Art + VIllage + City, taught by GUH professors Winnie Wong and Margaret Crawford, exploring Guangzhou and Shenzhen, I changed my field site to an art village outside Shenzhen. This came in part out of the arrival at Wutong Art Village, twenty minutes down the road from Dafen Village and yet seemingly a world away from Shenzhen’s rapid speed and intense industry. Wutong sits atop the Shenzhen Reservoir, Hong Kong’s water source, and is thus an ecological preserve site. Therefore, while the art there doesn’t sell at a scale like that of Dafen, a creative enclave is given space to thrive. Southern China has a unique history in relation to urbanism and experimentation, both with capitalism and aesthetics.

The GUH course gave me a level of comfort with the studio visit form that I didn’t previously have; it taught me about presenting ideas visually, and about making research communicable through exhibition. Since I met artist Zhou Tao shortly after the GUH studio (who is one of the artists featured in Trace Evidence), I have wanted to show his work back home in the United States—his tender vision, acute methods of processing what he sees as pressing issues of our time and his creation of visual art that is cutting and human, abstract and accessible, bleak and beautiful. Trace Evidence is that desire realized, and with the added excitement of working in affiliation with GCAS to bring art and climate change into conversation.

About the Curators

Rachelle Reichert creates graphite drawings and sculptures inspired by research of Chinese graphite mines, the source of graphite used in her artworks. The drawings depict abstract shapes from up-to-date satellite images of the mines. Working the graphite to reveal its material capacities through the visual language of abstraction, she explores the cost of green technologies and industries.  

Annie Malcolm is a sociocultural anthropologist whose work explores how Chinese artists respond to environmental and urban change. Currently writing an ethnographic monograph about art villages in outer Beijing and Shenzhen, she has worked in China over the last five years in research, installation, and translation capacities. Malcolm is a 2019 GUH Fellow and participant in the 2015 studio course Art + Village + City, for which was also the director for the satellite exhibition at the Shanghai biennale. She was also editorial assistant for the 2015 GUH sponsored journal P[art]icipatory Urbanisms, as well as a contributor to the GUH Special Issue of Room One Thousand Urban Pilgrimage. Malcolm is grateful for GUH’s support on this project.

Image: ​Zhou Tao The Worldly Cave [Fán Dòng] 2017, film still. Courtesy the artist and Vitamin Creative Space

Morton, Timothy. 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Nixon, Rob. 2013. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Women and Land Rights in China

Posted on by Tina Novero
Filed under: Art+Village+City, China


By Susan Moffat, Project Director, Global Urban Humanities Initiative

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China promises women equal rights. But in reality, many women have to petition for years to secure equal legal rights to their village lands. Their dogged persistence is a striking example of the way quiet, long-term activism can bring about changes to people’s “right to the city,” said Lanchih Po at a recent talk sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley.

“Their activism is not photogenic,” said Po, an associate adjunct professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley, who described women who singly or in groups of two or three show up at village offices without banners or fanfare month after month, or bring lawsuits that can stretch on for decades.  “They are considered a headache by local officials…they are persistent for years and years. They just don’t go away. You should see the faces of the officials when the women show up—it’s like they’ve seen a ghost.”

Po studied a town where a woman named Hui protested at the village office three to four times a week for more than ten years.  “I’m so angry - I have difficulty breathing…I can’t stand how they look down on women,” Hui said.

For several decades, Po has been conducting research on villages in southern China’s Pearl River Delta, focusing on the activism of women seeking their share of rights to communally-owned rural land. In the fast-urbanizing, densely populated area around Guangzhou and Dongguan, just up the Pearl River from Hong Kong, these citified “rural” lands often generate significant income when used as sites for factories or real estate development.

The activism of women takes place in the jurisdictions known as “villages,” which have far more autonomy from the central government in China than “cities” do–even when the villages are surrounded by metropolitan sprawl and physically look quite urban. There is an ongoing battle for power between these islands of village government and the central government.  

The villages jealously guard their right to self-determination, including the right to limit the number of villagers who are named as members. By limiting who counts as a citizen of the village, the more-or-less democratically elected village leaders maintain the value of each citizen’s share of the communal land and the revenue it generates.

Excluding village women who marry men from outside the jurisdiction is a key strategy for reducing the dilution of shares.  But in recent decades, these “waijianü”  or “out-married women” have been lobbying for their share of the villages where they or their ancestors were born. When the village claims women are no longer citizens of the village because of divorce, widowhood, or “outmarriage,” the women find they are counted as aliens in their native place.

So they petition higher levels of government for protection, much as African Americans in the American South looked to the Federal government to protect their rights against discrimination by local authorities.  Still, the central government struggles to enforce national laws.

“In China there is no shortage of beautiful laws, whether environmental or relating to people’s rights, but the problem is always implementation,” says Po.

Po says the protesting women in the villages are asserting their rights in a way that is rare in China—by citing the Constitution. “They are asserting their right to the city and their right to change the urbanization process not only through issues of resource distribution but by demanding acknowledgment of their membership in the community.”  These issues are not unique to China, said Po, noting that this kind of “politics of recognition” (following Charles Taylor) does not solely have to do with economic benefit, but also the right to political visibility.

On the one hand, urban village jurisdictions in China represent important zones of resistance to central state control where unique urban physical form and social relations flourish. On the other hand, they are sometimes bastions of discriminatory local customs. When local elected officials deny the citizenship of people in their midst and more distant unelected state officials seek to force that recognition, the picture of democracy and the right to the city becomes very complicated, indeed.

You can see Po’s research on other aspects of Chinese urban villages here:

Asymmetrical Integration: Public Finance Deprivation in China's Urbanized Villages,” Environmental Planning A, Vol. 44 Issue 12, January 1, 2012.

Property Rights Reforms and Changing Grassroots Governance in China’s Urban—Rural Peripheries: The Case of Changping District in Beijing,” Urban Studies, Vol. 48 Issue 3, February 2, 2011.

Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Exhibit(ion)s and Publications

Posted on by Genise Choy

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Will Payne

Susan Moffat, Project Director of Berkeley’s Global Urban Humanities Initiative, kicked off a short session showcasing hybrid approaches to cities with faculty from different departments teaching together, weaving together different methods and bringing together students from different disciplines. First, Berkeley professors Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), accompanied by graduate student members of the studio José Figueroa and Valentina Rozas-Krause, came up to introduce the exhibition that came out of their Mellon-funded studio course in the spring semester of 2015, Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta. The group visited a number of villages where art is produced and documented them, producing a complex, multimedia exhibition over the summer, with many hours put in by visiting scholar Ettore Santi. Their website ( is “the story of the pedagogical journey of the studio,” and all drawings were done by Figueroa during the class.


Image courtesy of Genise Choy


Next up were Jonathan Crisman, project director for the Urban Humanities initiative at UCLA and Dana Cuff, UCLA Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning, to present the Now Shanghai project, also funded by a Mellon Foundation grant. According to Cuff, Now Shanghai is a cross-disciplinary urban methodological investigation wrapped around ideas of film, thick mapping, and experiential ethnography, made up of a group of 24 students incorporating films made in Shanghai about urbanism across many genres, from documentary to fable and travelogue. Crisman described the way in which the project drew on anthropologist Clifford Geert’s idea of “thickness,” as the group explored a wide range of media "that could embed this polyvocality, multiple voices that are often conflicting” occupying the same space.


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo


Crisman and Cuff were followed by UC Berkeley graduate students Kirsten Larson (Architecture/City Planning) and Karin Shankar (Performance Studies), to present their coauthored journal and website, P[art]icipatory Urbanisms, a project that came about due to a “blind date” meeting through the Global Urban Humanities Initiative. Larson described how bracketing the [art] in ‘participation’ also suggests a blurring of the conventional separation between the aesthetic and the political dimensions of urban participation. She offered that urban practices, from spontaneous protests, to organized claims on urban space, are as aesthetic as they are political since they "entail a re-ordering of the field of urban experience and perception." The publication has two main components, a bilingual website ( with interviews in English and Portuguese with community activists, artists, and other groups involved in participatory urban processes in Sao Paolo and New Delhi, and a peer-reviewed publication of articles by scholars across disciplines taking on the subjects of participatory practices in art and planning. Shankar outlined their hope that this intervention can help spark conversation and collaboration, and to “assess the radical promise and the potential pitfalls of participation in both urban politics and art today.”


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo


Finally, Berkeley graduate students Mia Narell (Architecture) and Lawrence Yang (East Asian Languages + Cultures) presented Urban Pilgrimage, a special issue of Berkeley’s Room One Thousand student-edited journal on architecture. Narell, who serves on the publication’s editorial board, talked about how pleased she was to be partnering with the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and read a statement on behalf of Padma Maitland, co-editor of the publication. Maitland and Yang were drawn to the project of “rethinking pilgrimage in the modern urban context” beyond merely religious travel. There were print copies of the journal available for sale at the symposium, but the whole project is also available on their website (, providing a diverse collection of answers to the question: “What draws and moves us towards and through cities?”

Art+Village+City: Post-Travel Update

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art, Art+Village+City, China

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

From March 18th to April 3rd, the students and faculty of the Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta Studio visited the three mega cities of the Pearl River Delta: Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. Working in small teams, students surveyed over fifteen neighborhoods, urbanized villages, theme parks, commercial districts, and production centers of art, creative industry and cultural heritage. They interviewed artists, activists, art teachers, designers, performers, and villagers.


Image courtesy of José Figueroa


As he has done throughout the course, Berkeley MFA student José Figueroa (Art Practice) documented in drawing and watercolor our discussions and group meetings in cafes, restaurants and on the road. Our March 24th journey took some of the studio members on the highway running along the historic shorelines of the Pearl River Delta, from Shenzhen’s Shekou and new Qianhai financial district, to Guangzhou’s Xiaozhou Art Village.



Since our return, the studio has been archiving and cataloguing the extensive amount of photographic, ethnographic, video, and ephemeral materials collected, which will be presented in a public exhibition at UCB, and in various cities of the PRD in Fall 2015.

Art+Village+City: On Video as a Method and What Constitutes a “Site”

Posted on by Genise Choy

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The research studio paired up in teams and produced 7 short videos depicting a “Chinese” site. These sites were the Pacific East Mall in El Cerrito, Oakland’s Chinatown, San Francisco’s Chinatown, and two dollar-stores in the Mission and West Oakland. The films produced were markedly different in style, pace, content, and scope, prompting the class to reflect upon the elasticity of a site’s users, boundaries, activities, objects, everyday life, and emotional qualities.
— Winnie Wong

“During our editing process we felt like we did not have enough to work with yet, at the same time, this made the process relatively quick. Others talked about the difficulties they faced with too much film and the decisions they had to make cutting things out. For me the question remains whether a short film is more powerful in its ability to catch the attention of the viewer or if the long film is better in its ability to capture more. However, this also raises the question – do you necessarily need length to capture everything that you want to depict and to give an initial sense of what a place is like?”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“The most difficult aspect to this video project was not the process of making the video but the actual selection of a “Chinese place.” Although Brittany and I decided on the Asian Library in Oakland, what we ultimately captured was a much larger space than the singular place we selected; this included the festival outside of the library as well as some of the content filmed within the library itself. The American slang book that we picked up is one example of how a singular artifact has the potential to reveal histories, stereotypes, and cultures that occupy a much larger space than the Chinese aisle in the Oakland Asian Library.”
— Trude Renwick (Architecture)

“Video as a means of documentation, collection, communication and representation is really powerful. You can only capture so much and what you capture is subject to circumstance, but the format of the project is something that people are familiar with and can easily consume, even if the content of the video is difficult to decipher….It can also be highly manipulated to achieve certain effects. Like photography, even though it captures real images (not likenesses or interpretations like drawing, painting, etc.), the hand of the artist/producer can still be felt. I think that was made clear from the differences we saw in the Xiuxian/Story and Valentina/Ettore videos, which were filmed in the same place at the same time but felt so different and as a result had completely different effects on the viewer.”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“I wanted the film to reflect our impressions of walking through this so-called Chinese space without any overt purpose - though I think it is evident that we were searching for one. Belatedly, we realized that we had stumbled upon a character in the tunnel, a woman pulling a rollie suitcase in a “Where’s Waldo” sweater, but we lost track of her due to our red herring, the BART excavation. We were also unclear about our intent in documenting this space. How does one document a site, both with or without asserting one’s own narrative?…This opens up a range of approaches to “documenting” a site - do you treat the (possibly boring, banal) place as the object of your film, or do you use it as a setting to foreground an action, event or narrative which you either find or create? I suppose in a way, in our film, our own searching eye, through the vehicle of the camera, became the event of the film.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)

“I decided to document an 'all American' dollar store. Most of the low-consumer objects in this store were made in factories in the Pearl River Delta. It’s fascinating to note that both the producers of these objects and their consumers are usually struggling in the socio-economic apparatus. There’s a global market that profits from these transactions….Looking through the material and editing was the hard part. The research and image recording reads superficially and feels like the potential introduction for a larger/denser narrative….There’s a lot of material to sculpt from these sites. I’m immensely interested in the metaphor of the artificial flowers as a skeleton to expand upon the tension between the object/ its producer/site of production and its consumer…”
— Jose Figueroa (Art Practice)

What were we looking for? did not get asked or answered at any point in the process of shooting, editing or critiquing the work. Had the question been posed, what might have gone differently? Would we have “found” more or less? What would more or less look like in this process?”
— Annie Malcolm (Anthropology)

“Honestly, the Oakland Chinatown leaves me with a better impression than the Pacific East Mall, probably because it is more dynamic, more vibrant. In contrast, the Pacific East Mall gives me a feeling of stagnancy and dullness. I told Story that I think of the Pacific East Mall like a museum, storing the old-dated material, sentiment, and lifestyle of the 1980s. I kept thinking about the different spatial forms of these two sites, open and enclosed. Does spatial quality have emotions?”
— Xiuxian Zhan (Landscape Architecture)

“Having just struggled with editing and giving our raw footage some semblance of an order or meaning, I was hyper aware of all the wonderful things other people thought of to do (or did intuitively) with their films. Playing with splitting the screen to juxtapose or compare objects or experiences was very effective and visually interesting. I also liked the feeling that walking a loop gave, with familiar landmarks giving a spatial sense that is otherwise hard to capture in an edited film. A loop can be imbued with a ritualistic quality by making a connection to some theme or historical reference. In general, playing with references and questioning the underlying meaning of the everyday seems to have much potential. Lingering on objects, and especially architectural spaces and details, forces people to see things that they might otherwise miss. Similarly, footage of “back of house” activities has much to offer the audience, as it exposes a world otherwise not seen. Editing can be used to give the audience a sense (through pacing or music) that represents an idea of how a place is or should be.”
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)

“We had the advantage of being able to compare our video with Xiuxian’s and Story’s work who filmed the same space. It was striking how filmed under the same circumstances and even with similar scenes, both videos had very different takes on the space they were portraying. While our video had an emphasis on the empty spaces we perceived, compared to the density we were expecting, Xiuxian’s and Story’s video had a much more social narrative that was constructed upon the interviews Xiuxian was able to perform in Cantonese. These interviews opened up the space of the Mall, and it seemed a much more lived space than in our approach.”
— Valentina Rozas-Krause (Architecture)

Art+Village+City: Video Presentations

Posted on by Genise Choy

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

Students paired up to create videos of places related to China and the Chinese diaspora throughout the Bay Area. Here is José Figueroa's watercolor documentation of the in-class presentations!

We'll be posting one of the videos soon, just in time for the New Year!

An Example of Data Reshaping Daily Life in China

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.

September 25, 2014
Sensing San Leandro: Capturing Cityscapes Through Sensors
Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice) and Ron Rael (Architecture and Art Practice)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Niemeyer and Rael discussed how using sensors to collect data allow “reality-based” decisions about places to be made, using projects that they and their students have undertaken in San Leandro as examples.

by Mengyuan Jin

At a time of increasing data–orientation, Greg Niemeyer and Ronald Rael brought us a great lecture to rethink building the city based on data collection and use. The system they proposed for data collection and amendment as a way to sense and “upload” the city inspires me a lot and reminds me of the concept of “collective intelligence,” which is shared intelligence resulting from collective effects and appears in consensus decision making.

Research groups at MIT describe collective intelligence in today’s terms.

As they mentioned in the lecture, the data collected from citizens can help cities, counties, developers and designers to figure out priorities and understand how citizens want to use the place.  This data can present not only efficient customer feedback, since the citizens are the users of the city, but also a significant collection of social knowledge. If the system achieves maturity, the way we plan and design the cityscape, with more citizen involvement, will change a lot.

There is an interesting city phenomenon which is actually a new order happening in China based on public scrutiny from review websites. There was a big demand for basic goods and services when China’s economic reform began in 1978. In that period, business success meant imitating western countries by importing goods and services, which caused low quality-of-life services in China. People were so “hungry” to grab things for their homes that even they had no time to complain about the poor quality of services. What changes the situation now is that apps and websites used by people when rating a restaurant or something else in China are platforms that bring a huge group of people’s feedback together and create a new user-driven standard for the market.

Greg Niemeyer, Black Cloud, 2008

This is a clear example of how people evolving with data technology can ‘reshape’ their daily lives. So, the method Greg talks about in his art project the Black Cloud (2008) inspires me a lot. Black Cloud helped high school students sense air quality and take actions to benefit indoor air quality. Also, this series of methods could be an effective way to collect citizens’ group wisdom and use the data to improve and reform the city. However, some problems deserve much research work such as how to quantify data on human behavior.

Mengyuan Jin is a student in the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design.

Thoughts on Urban Villages by a Native of Guanghzhou

Posted on by Susan Moffat

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.  On August 28, 2014, Prof. Margaret Crawford (Architecture) gave a presentation on her continuing research on urban villages in the Pearl River Delta—independent jurisdictions that are being swallowed up physically and administratively by large cities. Along with Asst. Prof. Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), she will be teaching a studio course on the Pearl River Delta in Spring 2015.

Her presentation is available here.
Video of the first portion of her presentation is available here.

By Siying Wang

As an exchange student from Chinese majoring in urban planning, I was attracted by Margaret Crawford’s presentation at the first sight of the poster announcing the lecture. It was especially interesting to me when Margaret talked about the urban villages in Guangzhou, my hometown. Here, I would like to share some thoughts with you from my point of view as a Cantonese person.

Urban villages occur in almost every fast-developing city in China. “Village” has a particular meaning compared to the term in other countries due to some unique principles and regulations that apply only to places designated as “villages” in China. In my eyes, urban villages have a poor and backward image. I had never associated urban villages with art. As Margaret showed us in her slides, urban villages are full of ‘shaking-hands buildings’ (built so close together that people on the upper stories can shake hands with each other out of their windows) and ‘under-construction areas.'  In recent years, people in Guangzhou, including me, avoided getting too close to urban villages. Buildings there were dangerous and seemed quite ready to collapse. Most inhabitants were either farmers or the poor.

I wondered, “How could urban villages do anything with the arts? In what way can they be able to connect with and influence each other?” I now think the old and out-of-date opinion towards urban villages should be rethought, considering the developments that have happened in the recent years. Take Zhujiang New Town, for example, which is also an urban village in Guangzhou. It has now developed as the new central business district of Guangzhou: the old images are now replaced by skyscrapers and modern facilities. This progress is enhanced by the force of cooperation between government and villages’ residents and, of course, even the whole society.

Art exists in many ways and forms during the development of urban villages. Arts in Zhujiang New Town are developing in the normal way: old buildings were replaced by new ones directly. Brand new green projects cover the formerly desolate area. Arts in Xiaozhou Village develop in another way: many old buildings remain as art galleries or other aesthetically creative spaces for artists.

‘Shaking-hands buildings’ might represent the typical image of most urban villages in Guangdong. However we should look at the bigger picture of this developing topic, by knowing that arts exist in both the modern way and traditional way in urban villages.

Siying Wang is a visiting student at UC Berkeley.

Questions of Autonomy in Guangdong Urban Art Villages

Posted on by Susan Moffat

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.  On August 28, Prof. Margaret Crawford (Architecture) gave a presentation on her continuing research on urban villages in the Pearl River Delta--independent jurisdictions that are being swallowed up physically and administratively by large cities. Along with Asst. Prof. Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), she will be teaching a studio course on the Pearl River Delta in Spring 2015.

Her presentation is available here.
Video of the first portion of her presentation is available here.

By Evan Brooks

Margaret Crawford and Winnie Wong’s work on the Pearl River Delta introduces a unique dichotomy between the rapidly urbanizing city and its encroaching pressure on the autonomous urban villages that they surround. The issue of land seizures has become a ubiquitous cause of social unrest. This has been demonstrated in Crawford’s example of the three day protest in the villages of Wukan in Guandong province between 2011-2012.

In the midst of this social unrest, Crawford and Wong have uncovered a specific population that has the potential to speak out against the degradation of life and culture that this land-grabbing implies. That is the arts village of Dafen. The production of art has become an economic engine for this urban village, exporting artwork to commercial offices and hotels all over the world. Only a taste of art as social protest was showcased in Crawford’s lecture in the construction of an artist’s colony and gallery space underneath a nearby overpass

Given the density of talented artists in this region one might ask if there is more potential for resistance. Is it possible for these artists to speak out against the razing of urban villages? Is it beneficial for them to stay autonomous or is there a population of villagers that might embrace the urbanization? As an outside observer it is hard to speculate on the everyday implications that this situation may have on the citizens of Dafen and the Pearl River Delta? Perhaps those who have ethnographic experience in this region could help to provide some insight?

Evan Brooks is a student in the Master of Architecture program at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design.