By Cody Hoffman
Shenzhen is probably not on the top of most arts connoisseurs’ lists of destinations. A simple Google search for the city reveals a few recurring themes: wealth, shopping malls, and theme parks. But if you take the time to look beneath the city’s sleek, commercialized surface, you might be surprised to find a thriving and vibrant arts scene. So if you’re feeling all shopped out, check out one of these places to get your cultural fix in Shenzhen.
OCT Loft has to be one of my favourite places in the city. Located in Nanshan district, this area is a photographers’ dream. Here, old factory buildings have been converted into galleries and exhibition spaces, with adorable cafes and lively bars tucked in between. Head to the Penny Black for some live jazz music and a cold beer, scope out some local handmade goods at the market, or pop into one of the ever-changing exhibition spaces to see what’s on show. Or just join the hoards of locals (and tourists) taking dramatic selfies in front of the colourful street-art and eye-catching architecture.
Live Music and Theatre
OCT Loft is home to Shenzhen’s annual Jazz Festival. It also houses music venue B10, which hosts an eclectic range of performers, including international indie rockers Of Montreal and Surfer Blood. The similarly named A8 in Nanshan also hosts a diverse selection of artists. Recent acts include British singer-songwriter Tom Odell, and Bob Moses, a brooding electronic duo from Canada. But there are so many places in Shenzhen that one can go to be entertained, it would be difficult to list them all here. In December alone, you could check out a performance by Chinese Rocker (and host of The Voice of China) Wang Feng, or watch Romeo and Juliet performed by TNT Theatre Britain, or perhaps you’d rather see Swan Lake performed by the St. Petersburg Ballet. There’s also no shortage of live music nights at various local bars, as well as many open-mic nights for aspiring musicians. It seems like there’s always something going on somewhere, or more accurately, many things going on everywhere. The best way to keep up with it all is to follow That’s Shenzhen Magazine and Shenzhen Party on WeChat, as they always seem to be in the know about cool events.
Dafen Oil Painting Village
Dafen Oil Painting Village is hard to describe accurately: to call it simply a marketplace for reproduction paintings would not quite do it justice. It’s fascinating to watch the painters work, nonchalantly creating beautiful works of art between sips of tea. It’s also a bustling community where laughing children push each other around on mini scooters, and dogs laze in front of fans with their tongues out while their owners work on their latest masterpiece. Some of the art is original, while some are reproductions. Either way, it’s worth a stroll around on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and maybe you’ll come home with something nice to hang on your wall.
Shenzhen Concert Hall
If you’re a fan of classical music, then the Shenzhen Concert Hall in Futian District is the place to be. If you’re also into gawking at gorgeous architecture, then that’s even more reason to go. Designed by renowned Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, the impressive glass structure sets the perfect stage for a breathtaking musical performance. If you’re strapped for cash, you can check out the free “Beautiful Sunday” concerts, held every Sunday at 3pm. Conveniently, their website is also available in English, so checking out the programme and purchasing tickets is a breeze.
If you prefer your music with a little more bass and a bit less Bach, then never fear – Shenzhen has plenty of music festivals for you! For example, the Electric Jungle Music Festival made its debut in Shenzhen last year. This December has brought Steve Aoki, DJ Snake and a wide range of international electronic acts to the city. Last year saw Tiesto and Afrojack headlining the STORM Music Festival in Shenzhen. These are just a couple of the bigger-name examples. The city also hosts smaller events, like the Banana Music Festival this September which featured international DJs spinning tracks at the beautiful Dameisha Beach.
Museums and Exhibitions
There is an ever-rotating selection of interesting exhibitions to check out around Shenzhen. One notable example is the TeamLab Art Exhibition that came to town for a short time this autumn, yet left a lasting impression with its dazzling colours, interactive installations, and head-spinning spaces full of mirrors and light. Recently, the new Sea World Arts Center opened its doors, welcoming the public with exhibitions, workshops, and outdoor performances. If you’re interested in Shenzhen’s history, head to the Shenzhen Museum to find out about the area’s ancient (and more recent) past. There are many other historical and art museums dotted around the city, so if you feel like getting cultured, you can take your pick!
As Shenzhen is such a new city, you might expect it to be a bit lacking in culture. But Shenzhen’s youthfulness is part of what makes it such an exciting place to be. There is space for up-and-coming artists to define what Shenzhen’s culture means to them, and to help create the kind of city they want to see. Don’t let the Google results mislead you, come stay a while and let Shenzhen’s arts scene surprise you!
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