Modu Magazine: A Tale of Urban China

Rise and Fall of the ‘Sha Ma Te’ Subculture – “Li Yifan: The Heretical Light” Exhibition

Sha Ma Te (杀马特) originated from an online game coterie and was one of those subcultures in pursuit of idiosyncratic visual appearance. Emerging from the fringes of this trend, migrant workers in the coastal cities developed an even more melodramatic and more marginal popular culture on its very basis. From 2008 to 2013, the coterie of Sha Ma Te, the name of which is transliterated from the English word “smart,” had become synonymous with this subcultural trend as a result of its predominant popularity online.

After years of field studies on Sha Ma Te groups distributed in the coastal industrial area, Li Yifan completed his long documentary Sha Ma Te, I Love You. Through the oral accounts of the interviewees, the artist managed to reconstruct the process from the emergence of Sha Ma Te as a cultural trend to its years of decline and failure.

Li Yifan regarded the exhibition as an opportunity for the museum’s audience to know more about this community. In the film, he borrowed the statements of the Sha Ma Te to describe the life conditions and changes that young workers have encountered, and how they got to decline with the violence of public opinion. In the project, Li Yifan always entered as an ignorant, and then gradually discovered that the Sha Ma Te came from the isolation of young workers and the alienation from the mainstream life of the city. He so regarded the project as a disenchantment process, that the word Sha Ma Te well embodies.

On the other side of the exhibition, with numerous objects of daily life and hundreds of second-hand cellphones, Li Yifan reenacted the moment when workers took selfies in the heat of labor. Through this work, the artist tries to reconnect mutually segregated communities, to base artistic creation on a genuine perception of reality and thus to acquire a critical sensibility that has long been cherished in art.



Migrant Workers, Sha Ma Te Subculture


December 13, 2019 to February 16, 2020


Guangdong Times Museum


Guangdong Times Museum, Time Rose Garden III, Huangbianbei Road, Baiyun Avenue, Guangzhou (Tue-Sun: 10:00-18:00 –Closed on Mondays exept for public holidays

Art Works:

  • Li Yifan, Sha Ma Te, I Love You, Single-screen video with audio and color, 125’5”, 2019
  • Light Out of the Blue
  • Second-hand smartphones, LED monitors, plastic daily consumables, plastic cloth, color steel tiles, with adjustable size, 2019

About the Artist:

Li Yifan, artist and documentary director. Born in Wuhan, Hubei in 1966, currently works and lives in Chongqing. He is one of the main initiators of the art projects One Man’s Society, Six Rings is One Ring More than Five Rings and Youth from Other Provinces. His documentaries have won many major international film festival awards. In 2008, Beijing Iberia Art Center held a solo exhibition “Micro-narrative: Archives”; in 2016, Chongqing GCA Art Museum held a solo exhibition “Resisting Hallucinations-A Ritual of Daily Life”.

About the Curator:

Liang Jianhua, born in Guangdong, China in 1977, currently lives and works in Guangzhou. Curator, has long been engaged in the work of art institutions, and currently works as the head of the exhibition department of Guangdong Times Museum and the Huangbian Station Contemporary Art Research Center. Planned “Parallel with Reality” (2014, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum); “Hinterland Project-Shi Qing Solo Exhibition” (co-curator, Guangdong Times Museum, 2015); “Looking for the Will” (Guangdong Times Museum, 2017); “Li Xiaofei: Ponytail” (Guangdong Times Art Museum, 2018).


Friday the 17th of January, 2020, 19:30-21:30, with artist Li Yifan and curator Liang Jianhua.
Venue: Tiyu Dong Road 27, 1200bookshop, Tianhe District, Guangzhou

Useful Link:

  • 2019/12/13 - 2020/02/16

  • Guangzhou

  • Guangdong Times Museum