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You Needn’t Be a Comic Book Nerd to Appreciate 'Drawing Shanghai'

The greatest Shanghai history lesson that requires little to no reading
2022-03-09 12:00:00
Update March 10th: Due to the recent Covid outbreak in Shanghai museums including this exbibition are currently closed until further notice.

Ah, comic books. There was a time when admitting that you were an avid, nay, obsessive comic book collector would immediately sound the Nerd Alert. But times have changed. Comics are cool, man! At Drawing Shanghai, the latest exhibition on show at the Shanghai Culture Square, you can come on out and embrace it.

Rounding up over 600 drawings from 18 different artists from China and abroad, the exhibition collectively results in what is perhaps the most comprehensive comic book collection on Shanghai itself. Curated by French researcher Yohan Radomski and Chinese scholar Julia Chow, the displayed works walk us through the changes and evolutions of Shanghai life and culture over the years, narrated through the simple act of putting image down to paper. What results is a great look into Shanghai's heterogenous history and cultural life that requires the minimum amount of reading! Life is grand.

You needn't be familiar with the comic book genre or the illustrators themselves for the exhibit to pique your interest because it will (pardon the pun) draw you in. Highlights?

The exhibit kicks off with He Youzi's memoirs of his arrival in Shanghai as a refugee in the 1940s, drawn in his signature line drawing style which earned him his Senior Editor title at the Shanghai People's Fine Arts Publishing House. You'll be surprised at how much you'll relate to Luo Xixian's illustrations of shikumen life in the 1960s, or Fan Shengfu's classic images of childhood games in the 1970s. Linger over cartoonist Ding Song's One Hundred Beauties, an illustrative depiction of Shanghai women between 1912 to 1949 and considered as a pioneering body of work of modern Chinese feminist paintings (very timely for Women's Day too).

There's a beautiful section featuring paintings of Shanghai's 17 districts (now merged into 16, for the purists out there) by Dai Hongqian, as well as humorous snippets by illustrator Tango's 'one painting a day' project which earned him millions of followers on Weibo.

Foreigners also get to sing praises of their adopted city. Included in the exhibit are works by Lucie Guyard of La Ptite Lu, a comic book exploring the quirky side of Shanghai life; some pages from Thierry Robin's tome Chinese Red; and the touching illustrations of Leopold Prudon, who sketched his long wanderings through the streets of Shanghai as a goodbye letter to his deceased father.

But the winner (in our book) of the Most Riveting Artwork would be Wang Weimin's 30-meter-long, highly-detailed pen painting of the No. 146 block of Dinghai where he grew up, which took him five whole years to complete.Jesus, what a sight to behold. If anything, come for this.


Drawing Shanghai - Shanghai Style in The Comics runs daily until March 26 at the Shanghai Culture Square. Get your tickets here.