Asia - Issue 7 - Magazine | Monocle

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Art-imitating strife


Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun may command millions for his paintings overseas but at home he is dogged by a growing trade in cheap copies of his work. While Microsoft, Louis Vuitton and Hollywood studios have been among the most vocal victims of Chinese counterfeiting, the country’s creative talents are also feeling its effects.

To Yue, whose The Pope sold at auction at Sotheby’s London in June for a record €3.17m, the copies are particularly galling because they are tolerated, even promoted, by the government. Officials have declared Dafen, a village in Shenzhen where many replicas are made, a model of cultural development. “The local government thinks this is a commercial enterprise,” said Yue. “They support it.”

The irony is that Shenzhen, which wants to become China’s Silicon Valley, is trying to cast itself as a staunch defender of intellectual property rights. The local public security bureau even has a special division devoted to nabbing counterfeiters. In fact, the city is a popular destination for shoppers looking for fake Coach handbags and pirated Hollywood films.

So far, the reproductions of the paintings by Yue and other Chinese artists sold in Dafen are not signed. “They’re not selling them on the real art market,” argues Zhang Xiaogang, a contemporary artist. “They’re souvenirs.” But Yue worries that eventually somebody will try to pass off a copy as authentic. Vinci Chang, head of sales for 20th century Chinese art and Asian contemporary art at Christie’s, says that more professional fakes are inevitable.

Still, there is evidence that some of the artists in Dafen are tiring of their trade. When asked by a customer whether he could replicate a piece by an up-and-coming Chinese artist, one Dafen painter refused. “It’s too easy,” he said. “Ask someone else.”

Style leader: no. 6

Cape of good hope


This month in our regular series decoding the power dressing of the political elite, we examine the style and substance of Afghan Preasident Hamid Karzai. His dress sense has won much praise, but can his conciliatory style command the troubled state?

Once hailed by Tom Ford as the chicest man in the world, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s style is more than just an attempt to stand out among the dark suits sported by the ranks of global leaders. From the top of his Astrakhan hat to the dazzling colours of his Uzbek cape, Karzai’s look is designed to make a statement about unity in a nation riven by tribal and ethnic fault lines.

Originally from Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taliban movement in southern Afghanistan – when Karzai became the interim leader of the country in 2002, he eschewed the traditional turban worn by his fellow ethnic Pashtuns. Instead, the President chose an eclectic outfit that also appeals to Persian-speaking Tajiks and the Uzbeks of northern Afghanistan.

The distinctive emerald and purple cape that has become his trademark is often worn by Uzbek horsemen who take part in the game of buzkashi – a rough- and-tumble version of polo that is played with the carcass of a goat instead of a ball. The cape known as a chapan, is also worn by Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, a commander famed for running over his opponents in tanks or leaving them locked in shipping containers in the burning desert sun.

The tribal cape is also made in red, gold and white, but Karzai’s choice of green references the colour of Islam as well as the colours of the national flag. His distinctive Astrakhan hat, meanwhile, is a fashion popular among Tajik people in the capital Kabul. Underneath the cape Karzai dresses in a shalwar kameez tunic as worn by people across the country. However, Karzai’s is better cut than those of most of his compatriots – he has an eye for sharp tailoring. Karzai sometimes pairs this with a black or khaki waistcoat that is another nod to his Pashtun roots.

Karzai governs the country from the presidential palace in the centre of Kabul and his helicopter is often shot at when he leaves the sanctuary of its walls. In 2002, an assassin tried to kill him when he attended his brother’s wedding in Kandahar – a city where the murder of government officials has become a frequent event and where the violence is beginning to echo the scale of bloodshed seen in Iraq. Many of his clothes are gifts from tribal delegations who have come to petition him for help behind the safety of those palace walls.

Against this background, the world’s most stylish leader has become one of its most vulnerable. Karzai’s conciliatory style of government and dress has failed to shore up his powerbase or appease his critics at home or abroad. In 2002, western media was full of accolades for Karzai’s sartorial flare but now the same writers accuse the Afghan president of favouring style over substance and failing to tackle crime, corruption, the drugs trade or the spiralling Taliban-led insurgency.

Longest-serving leaders:


King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Reigned since 1946

Adoration of Thailand’s King is enforced by law – in 2006, a Swiss expatriate was jailed for 10 years for defacing portraits of the monarch (he was subsequently deported). But there is no doubting the genuine esteem in which the King is held, or the influence he wields – the 2006 coup d’etat could not have taken place without his approval.

Just the ticket


Vietnam is finalising a €17.5bn plan for high-speed trains for the Hanoi-Saigon run, which could cut the journey time from 33 hours to 10. Rivalry for influence in the region should see Korea or Japan make good on their offers for cheap loans to get rails on the ground – there is also a suggestion that Japan would help out with Shinkansen “bullet trains”. There are also a host of other road and rail projects that are all needed to keep this booming economy on the fast track.

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