China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In light of the rise of new public art in rural China, this paper analyzes a recent mural project initiated by Wang Jun, a Chinese artist who has worked to create free art space and learning facility for marginalized populations. Taking place in mid 2018 in Dongtou village, a remote rural village of Shangdong province, the project was hosted by Mentors Academy, a free public reading space that Wang established for local farmers. Wang invited about 100 painters and graffiti artists across China to paint the exterior walls of houses on the two sides of the main street in Dongtou village, at the consent of their owners. Artists came to make art for free, responding to Wang’s call “art changes the village.” This collective undertaking produced more than 100 murals and graffiti and has created a national sensation, much helped by Wang’s own active promotion through social media. Even before it was completed, more than 1,000,000 people were reported to have followed its progress or visited this formally unknown rural village. While the long-term social impacts of this massive project are too early to be assessed, the paper argues that artistic initiatives like this are undoubtedly reshaping the direction of rural public art in contemporary China and contributing to the growth of bottom-up pubic spaces in the largely deprived countryside.