Painting project for poor expands reach

Updated 2018-06-08 09:09:01

Lin Yuansong, who is hearing-impaired, paints in a residency program at Antai Art District, Pingnan county, Fujian province, on May 24.

A retired soldier, a woman who has lost the use of a hand and an urban auto agent keen to experience rural life are all pursuing the same vocation - oil painting - in Shuangxi.

The quaint town in Pingnan county of East China's Fujian province built the Antai Art District, where they are learning to paint, in 2015.

The government-backed project was set up mainly to offer an engagement to poor farmers and rural residents with disabilities living nearby.

But today the place, which is run by a private real estate company, is an art venue that holds exhibitions and sells the amateur works online.

Ningde, the prefecture-level city of 3 million or so that governs the town, witnessed a significant reduction in poverty last year, according to local officials.

Although vulnerable social groups, such as people with autism and cerebral palsy or those without livelihoods, from the province's northeast and beyond Fujian still constitute a portion of enrollees for residency programs spanning weeks and months, fewer farmers visit Antai these days.

"This is mainly because we also teach art in the villages," says Lin Zhenglu, 47, the self-taught artist who is at the helm of creative affairs at Antai.

Some tourists from other provinces of China visit the art enclave during summer.

"This year, 3,000 people have registered for the program (as of May)," says Lin.

He asks the visiting students of different ages to paint, based on "real-life relevance", he adds.

Yu Yangsu, a retired soldier, has been learning landscape art since the past four months. He paints the natural scenery of Pingnan in vibrant colors.

"I feel young when painting. Plus, I get company," Yu, 66, says while sitting in front of his canvas in a studio, where his signature style seems to be painting lone trees amid mountains.

Yu calls himself an "empty nester", a term for parents whose children have grown up and left home.

As China Daily tours the compound on a recent morning, Xue Meilan, a 37-year-old woman, is seen in another studio painting an old kerosene lamp. A Mao Zedong book and a match box also feature in her work that has a 3D effect. Since the right side of her body was paralyzed, Xue has relied on her left hand, even for painting.

Some people from outside Fujian can be found in a workshop at Antai.

Among them is 48-year-old Yu Xia from Heilongjiang province who arrived in April and has since been trying to paint a frog in a humanlike posture. Her fellow trainee, a middle-aged male automobile agent from Shaanxi province, is making a portrait of a woman across the room - and he is "here for a glimpse of village life in Fujian".

The premises comprise 42 studios, with galleries, exhibition halls and training workshops on different floors. A plaque extols the project's "cultural vitality and economic prosperity".

Lin posts the paintings to WeChat, the messaging app of Chinese technology company Tencent Inc, when they are ready for sale.

While prices vary depending on how appealing a piece is to a potential buyer, the smaller artworks can fetch up to 500 yuan () and the larger usually sell upward of 1,000 yuan, according to another teacher at Antai. It could take a fortnight for a painting to sell online.

It is not clear how many of the participants in the program take up art as a career once they step out of Antai.

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