In a once-poverty-stricken ethnic minority village in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, several 70-year-old women have made the switch from working in the fields to painting interesting works of art to them. brought in money and even caught the attention of foreigners.
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Among the lush peach orchards on the northeast shore of Erhai Lake, one of China’s most popular scenic spots, is Huoshan Village in Shuanglang County. For generations, members of the Bai ethnic minority have lived in this village, earning a living as farmers and herders, until they began to turn to painting as a means of earning money.
“At first these older women came to my house only to ask me to help them find a way to make some extra money. study art, ”Shen Jianhua, artist and founder of the Shuanglang Farmer Painting Club, told the Global Times.
As you enter Huoshan village, one can not only see peach trees, but also colorful art installations made by the locals by the roadside, a beautiful combination of rural and artistic life.
“The village is becoming an art garden with more and more travelers coming there every year.”
Shen Jianhua, described by students as gentle and elegant, has an artistic attitude in his own right. He told the Global Times that he moved to the village 10 years ago due to his wife’s poor health. Fortunately, leaving the big city to move to a beautiful and peaceful place like Shuanglang County turned out to be a great choice.
Tell their own stories
“Here we call them all old grandmothers, like Grandmother Moses who started her career as a painter when she was 70 years old,” Shen explained.
In 2012, when one of these grandmothers, Wang Bingxiu, first came to Shen to study art after learning he was a painter from Shanghai, she was 79 years old.
And Wang remains an elderly apprentice even now, she is 89 years old.
“Her works are so recognizable. She is able to reflect her rich life experiences on the web.”
The Shanghai artist often tells his students to be careful of themselves and focus more on their life stories when composing.
“Well, besides the fact that they like to paint rural landscapes, they also paint other things, including human scenes, like weddings, because I think they tell their own stories, a way of find their inner self. ”
For Wang, who has lived in this village most of her life, she is not only a farmer, but also a member of the Chinese Communist Party. She once worked as a village midwife who had traveled through remote mountains to help give birth from village to village when she was young.
In addition to the interesting village stories, the richness of the colors is another remarkable feature of these semi-professional works.
“I had 99 colors in front of them and told them to choose the colors for themselves. The colors often used by locals here are very strong and full of contrast,” Shen told the Global Times. “I like it because it’s also part of their instincts, which you can tell by their colorful ethnic clothes.”
3,000 years ago, the Bai ethnic group living in Yunnan mastered the techniques of wearing. Usually, they embroider exquisite designs on the cuffs, front placket, apron and streamers of clothes. The designs they choose range from butterflies to fruits such as plums or peaches.
Sunflowers By Zhao Xinlian, one of the club’s students Photos: Courtesy of Shen Jianhua
In recent years, the club has organized four local art exhibitions. And he has made national tours to places such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, which has made the works of art appreciated by more people. The works of these elderly women sold for an average price of 15,000 yuan ($ 2,347).
In order to attract more tourists, Shen and his wife opened a cafe in Huoshan Village. The chicken coop-shaped cafe sells prints of various paintings, silk scarves and other items. Local Shuanglang architect Zhao Huijun also built an art museum to store these works, with more artists coming to the village to contribute.
In addition to the elderly, young and middle-aged residents also came to learn how to paint peasant painting.
While the first group of students from 10 years ago may rarely appear at painting club meetings as before, their works are still proudly displayed on a painting board, and the art installation will still be held at the entrance to the village to accommodate more travelers.
“It can be a way of life, a way to make money. And with more artists giving credit to this place, I think it’s a real art village.”