History repeats itself in art

An immersive painting exhibition in the historical Zhangyuan neighborhood of Jing'an District is taking visitors on a journey to the past.
History repeats itself in art
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Oil painter Chen Yiming, dressed in retro clothing, paints in Zhangyuan.

An immersive painting exhibition is under way in the historical Zhangyuan neighborhood of Jing’an District. The innovative activity, which runs through next Tuesday, is part of this year’s China Shanghai International Arts Festival.

Sandwiched between Weihai Road and Wujiang Road, Zhangyuan is one of the city’s best-preserved historical communities. Dating back to 1872, the area was bought by a British merchant. After a decade, Chinese entrepreneur Zhang Shuhe took over the property and transformed the garden villas into a public gathering place.

In 1886, the city’s first electric light bulbs were switched on in Zhangyuan, which is known as “the first public space in modern China.”

The streetlights were lit once again on Thursday to mark the opening of the exhibition.

The activity invited a group of famous painters, including Feng Yuan, Yu Xiaofu and Chen Yiming, along with young artists and students to depict the historical neighborhood together. The activity called for a dress code — all of the painters and models were required to wear retro clothes with vintage accessories.

Wearing a chic hat, a gentleman dressed in a tailored suit and a trench coat was painting a portrait of a foreigner. The painter was Chen, a contemporary oil painter and younger brother of the late artist Chen Yifei.

“It is my first time to attend such kind of activity and I feel very excited,” said Chen. “Living nearby, I often visited the place with my friends during my childhood. Many scenes from my elder brother’s film ‘Evening Liaison’ were shot in Zhangyuan.”

The foreign model named Suhbat was an overseas student from Kyrgyzstan. A student at Shanghai Normal University, the 20-year-old wore a blue robe decorated with Chinese patterns.

“The area allows me to get a glimpse of old Shanghai,” Suhbat said.

History repeats itself in art
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The immersive painting exhibition takes visitors back to the old days.

History repeats itself in art
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A stall selling tofu

The exhibition's opening ceremony took visitors back to the old days. In their journey to the past, visitors saw stalls selling wonton and tofu, vendors peddling cigarettes, a rickshaw driver and women dressed in elaborate cheongsam.

Speaking in authentic dialect, the actors were from the Shanghai Farce Troupe.

“The immersive painting itself is a kind of performance art,” said Yu Xiaofu, curator of the exhibition and oil painter.

The activity is free to the public. However, visitors need to make an appointment at www.artsbird.com.

The paintings will be displayed in an exhibition at an art center on Xinzha Road from November 15 to the end of the year. The exhibition will also feature many porcelain artworks in a Zhangyuan theme.

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