Before I began photographing lilongs, I, like any newly arrived transplant in Shanghai, methodically made my way through the must-sees around the city. The area around Moganshan Lu being one of them. Mind you, this was 2008 and in China, that counted as two urban landscapes ago. Which also explains the quality of the photos, I couldn’t tell aperture from shutter speed then.
The long stretch of wall leading from the art space that is 50 Moganshan Lu, the contemporary art district, has always come alive for visitors. The street art is constantly changing, providing a marvelous backdrop for the young and trendy: wedding photo sessions, fashion shots for an online store on Taobao or the latest kicks from Adidas. For tourists, it was the basic thrill of freely posing against the explosion of colors without a stuffy gallery guard telling you to piss off. Heck, you could even photograph the famous toilet stop and the cab driver wouldn’t even bat an eyelash at your camera, all while zipping up his pants upon exit.
Sometime around 2009-2010, I got to know a few of the street artists who have graced the walls of Moganshan Lu. Some have stayed on to build alternative careers in Shanghai while others have left for the home country, typical of our transient lives. We recognized each other’s work and connected over Flickr or email (this was before WeChat), curious about each other’s interpretations of the city. I met BrandFury on the street while he was spray painting his trademark panda, and brought him and Grayson, another talented illustrator (whose work reminds me of hipster Williamsburg even though I have never even been there) to some ruin in Hongkou to hang out.
We’d trade gossip about when the wall was going to come down. The plot of land behind the graffiti wall, where one of the many abandoned flour mills of the Shanghai Flour Mill Co. (owned by the wealthy Rong family of Wuxi) still stood, had been barren for a long time. Rumors were strife with speculation as to the power and corporate politics that would determine its fate. It was as if the artists finally had a “man” to stand against if their art, repeatedly tagged and painted over, was going to collapse along with brick and mortar.
It’s been a while since I visited the wall. The last time I went to Moganshan Lu in 2014, I actually paid more attention to the art galleries than the buzz of activity by the wall. It has been “gentrified”, an artist once said condescendingly, since commercial outfits have held bloc parties there involving cheap beer and soap suds. I can’t imagine the local neighborhood police was very pleased or even knew how to handle the situation. It probably ruined their weekend.
Perhaps you’re scratching your head wondering why in the world I’ve gone on about this at length. It’s really an opportunity to post some old photos of Moganshan when my camera skills were worse than mediocre but I was trying with earnest enthusiasm. Since the art on the walls are and were everchanging, I pronounce my slice of history circa 2009. You may or may not have seen them before, either way, they’re buried under layers of creativity over the years. That is if it’s still standing.