Paint­ing helps boost Dong farm­ers’ in­comes

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By ZHANG LI in Nan­ning [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

The bright col­ors and lo­cal themes of paint­ings by mem­bers of the Dong eth­nic group in San­jiang Dong au­ton­o­mous county, in south­ern China’s Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion, have made them pop­u­lar with tourists and col­lec­tors.

Many of the painters are lo­cal farm­ers, like Yang Gong­guo, who cre­ated a sen­sa­tion among his peers in 1994, when he sold his first work to a gallery in Shang­hai.

“The sale was amaz­ing and en­cour­ag­ing as we be­gan to be aware that there is a mar­ket for us,” Yang, in his 60s, said. “From then on, our paint­ings started to gain fame and lots of farm­ers have joined our team.”

More than 300 farm­ers are now en­gaged in paint­ing in San­jiang.

Farmer-pain­ter Yang Gong­cun has turned his house into a stu­dio, where he and his wife can do some draw­ing af­ter com­plet­ing their farm work.

“Paint­ing can both kill time and make some money,” said Yang Gong­cun, who sold nearly 30 paint­ings last year, earn­ing 12,000 yuan ($1,740).

Early ex­am­ples of Dong paint­ing can be found at the county’s drum tower and on stilted build­ings and bridges.

Tra­di­tional ac­tiv­i­ties like danc­ing hand-in-hand be­fore the drum tower, singing in a cho­rus on stage, and grow­ing rice and fish in the ter­raced fields pro­vide the in­spi­ra­tion for Dong themes.

“A long time ago, vil­lagers in their spare time would paint on cloth with indigo and soot or doodle on the ground with a twig just for fun,” said Yang Gong­guo, who was among the ear­li­est to re­ceive pro­fes­sional train­ing.

The lo­cal artists at­tribute their suc­cess to gov­ern­ment sup­port. In the 1980s, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fered a train­ing pro­gram in paint­ing tech­niques. Yang Gong­guo ap­plied im­me­di­ately and his skills im­proved greatly af­ter­ward.

The gov­ern­ment set up a Dong paint­ing cul­tural her­itage base in 2013 and pro­vides 50,000 yuan a year to sup­port farmer-painters. The folk art has at­tracted for­eign tourists, and pro­fes­sional art in­sti­tu­tions have ac­knowl­edged Dong paint­ing’s cul­tural and aes­thetic val­ues.

San­jiang is also known for its eth­nic fes­ti­vals, tra­di­tional cloth­ing, skill­ful em­broi­dery, and the ex­quis­ite crafts­man­ship of its wooden ar­chi­tec­ture — all of which laid a firm foun­da­tion for the emer­gence of Dong paint­ing.

“The charm of Dong paint­ing is in its imag­i­na­tion,” said Yang Qingli, chair­man of the lo­cal artists’ as­so­ci­a­tion. “There are no rules to fol­low in cre­at­ing a Dong paint­ing if com­pared with oil paint­ing or land­scape paint­ing.

“Draw­ing skill is not nec­es­sary for painters. But what they paint must come from the Dong eth­nic group peo­ple’s life.”

In re­cent years, Dong paint­ing has di­ver­si­fied its for­mats. It is now used on items rang­ing from porce­lain to win­now­ing fans to make it more mar­ketable.

“Dong eth­nic paint­ing in San­jiang gen­er­ated more than 1 mil­lion yuan in rev­enue last year,” Yang Qingli said. “I hope we can fur­ther boost this in­dus­try by ap­ply­ing the paint­ing el­e­ment to prod­ucts for ev­ery­day use.”

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