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中国 摩西奶奶 :一位农妇的另一种人生­从地上捡烟盒开始自学­画画 坚持 40多年身患重病仍未­放弃

- 文 / 刘丁维 图 / 刘中灿

“做你喜欢的事吧,哪怕你已经 80岁了。”摩西奶奶的这句话曾鼓­励过无数人。

摩西奶奶是一名居住在­美国乡村的普通主妇,一生与土地和家务打交­道,70多岁时才拿起画笔,画了 1000 多幅油画,成为二战前最令人尊敬­的民间艺术家,也是同时代最知名的女­性艺术家。

中国也有这样一位“摩西奶奶”,她是湖北省安陆市赵棚­镇66岁的杨祖芬,一生都未接受过正规艺­术训练。但凭借着对画画的热爱,她十几年如一日,描绘了数百幅山村田野­的自然景象。

地上捡起烟盒 开始画画梦想

2021年元月的安陆­田野,在肆意的冬风里透露着­些许的萧瑟,和老人画里的风景很像。眼前这个花白短发的老­婆婆,

一身红棉袄站在路旁,和别的农村老人没什么­两样。如果不是看过她的画,很难想象,她的心中还装着这么一­个浓墨重彩的大千世界。

杨祖芬的家里很简陋,摆放也很随意。当我们提出看她的画时,老人脸上抑制不住涌出­笑意,充满喜悦和满足,没有丝毫害羞。她从卧室里翻出箱子,一卷卷画纸整齐地放在­里面。她像宝贝似的一张张打­开,慢慢给我们讲她从烟盒­子画起的梦想。

“1976 年,我才 22 岁,那时候在土桥小学当代­课老师。学校的一面大黑板,我总会留一块,画点简笔画逗孩子们开­心,有时候画几个小人,有时候画神话故事。”杨祖芬说,自己是这样和画画结缘­的。

后来没能留校任教,杨祖芬只能回家种地,照顾家人和孩子,但这个爱好并没丢下。“那时候家里

穷,根本没有钱买画纸,我就捡地上别人抽完扔­下的香烟盒子,翻过里面的白纸,就着小孩的铅笔来画画。”

杨祖芬的画里出现最多­的动物是牛,通体都是沉静的墨黑色,拖着大大的肚子,或温顺或木讷。老人对水牛的喜欢,来源于骨子里最简单最­朴素的情感,“我们农民祖祖辈辈都离­不开牛,牛是最吃苦耐劳的。我小时候放牛,总想着找一块最好的草,让我的牛吃饱。”老人笑了起来,直到现在,她画牛也忍不住在牛脚­边多画些青草。

攒了一年的钱 只为装裱画作

从烟盒子到纸,有多难?杨祖芬说,年轻时,家里就丈夫有固定工作,也是乡村教师,不仅要养活一家四口,负担孩子的教育费用,还要照顾双目失明的母­亲。

Follow your heart, even if you are 80 years old.” The words of Grandma Moses have inspired many. Grandma Moses was a housewife residing in a rural community in the United States, who had farmed and done housework all her life up until she picked up a paintbrush at the age of 70. She created more than 1,000 oil paintings throughout her life and by the outbreak of World War II, was one of the most respected folk artists, and is the most well-known contempora­ry female artist.

There is also a “Grandma Moses” in China. Her name is Yang Zufen, a 66-year-old lady and a local of Zhaopeng Town, Anlu City. Having never received any formal art training, Yang Zufen has painted for more than 4 decades purely out of her love for art, and has created hundreds of works featuring natural beauty— primarily mountains, villages, and fields.

Stories Start from Cigarette Packs

It’s a day in January 2021 when we met Grandma Yang. The fields of Anlu looked a little bleak in the frigid wintry bluster, like a scene removed from her paintings.

In her nondescrip­t red cottonpadd­ed jacket juxtaposed against a mane of silvery hair, the elderly woman waiting for us by the roadside looked no different from any other senior citizen one might meet in the countrysid­e. If you hadn’t seen her paintings, it would be hard to imagine that there was such a rich and colorful world in her imaginatio­n.

Grandma Yang’s home was simple and humble, with things strewn everywhere with no logic

女儿熊丹丹记得,小时候过年,家里只能买几斤猪肉,为了不给他们家添负担,亲戚拜完年就走,不会留下来吃饭。

那时候,杨祖芬上山砍柴、捡松针和菌菇去卖。偶尔有多余的钱,就买点画纸,一张裁成四份,“为的就是能多画三张画”。

丈夫熊其发不能理解,家里条件已经这么困难­了,为什么她还要执意画画?“画画需要花钱,我们这样的家庭是支撑­不了的。”熊其发告诉记者,直到前几年,家里才还清孩子读书和­结婚找亲戚借的钱。

夫妻两人有过一次冲突。熊其发需要做一个小手­术,准备了3000多元手­术费,他看到妻子装裱她的 13幅画时,以为用掉了手术费,气得大发雷霆,烧了一大摞妻子的画作。其实,裱画的钱,是杨祖芬攒了一年的养­老钱。

为了买画材,杨祖芬极少逛商店。一件绿色的夹棉衣穿了­20 多年,袖口破了,棉花鼓出来,见我们看着破口,她连忙把棉花塞进去。

“没有什么能比画画更让­我开心了,每当画画的时候,我的内心就像水一样平­静。”老人说。

身患重病之后 还有一个心愿

杨祖芬老人的画多是乡­野农趣、自然风光和生活中最平­凡的画面,看了让人感到非常的恬­静和温暖。

她没有学过画,甚至不知道在哪里落款,但作画对她而言没有难­处。“我画画的时候没有委屈­没有难过,想怎么画就怎么画,当我不开心的时候我就­不画了。”

去年 11月,杨祖芬在武汉同济医院­被确诊为肺癌晚期,发病的时候浑身疼痛,无法翻身。因为这个原因,她好些时候没正经拿过­画笔了。

没有人告诉她,得了癌症后生命还有多­长。“家人不提,我也不问,这次生病又让家里欠了­债。”她躺在家里的旧沙发里,脸面对着窗外的太阳,“我也活了这么长了,该经历的都经历了,能找到自己一生的爱好,我已经觉得很幸福了。”

谈到此处,她突然来了兴致,执意要画上一幅画,但是手不停地抖,很难控制。她也没有放弃,随意几笔勾勒出熟悉的­老水牛和枯树。“就是画到生命的尽头,我也要坚持下去。”

“如果说,还有什么愿望的话,那就是办一次画展,就在镇上的学校里,给我一间教室。”老人说,想给孩子们看看她的画,希望他们能懂:只要坚持自己的爱好走­下去,人生会有很多种可能。

guiding their placement. When we asked to see her paintings, she couldn’t help but beam with joy and satisfacti­on. She pulled out a box from her bedroom, which was full of rolls of drawing papers stacked neatly in it. She opened them one by one carefully and told us her stories starting from the cigarette packs.

“In 1976, I was 22 years old and working as a substitute teacher at Tuqiao Elementary School,” Grandma Yang said. “There was a large blackboard at the school, on which I always drew some simple pictures to amuse the children. Sometimes I drew people, sometimes drawings that represente­d things found in mythical stories.” And that was how she became interested in painting.

Later, Grandma Yang was not awarded an official post of teacher and had to go back to farming. In addition to tending her crops, supporting family, and taking care of children, she kept at her hobby. “At that time, my family was too poor to afford drawing paper. So, I collected the cigarette packets I found discarded on the ground, flipped them over to draw on the white inside with my child’s pencil.”

The buffalo is the animal that appears most of all in Yang’s paintings. Its deep black color, protruding belly, and docile nature fascinate her. Her love for buffalo stems from the deepest and most simple emotions in farmers. “Our farmer ancestors could not do without buffalo. They are the most hard-working animal. As a child, I always wanted to find the best grass for my buffalo,” she laughed. That’s why she always tends to draw more grass under the buffalo’s feet.

A Year of Savings for a Few Simple Mountings

How long was the journey from cigarette packets to art paper?

When they were younger, Yang’s husband was the only one in the family with a regular job as a rural teacher. His entire income went to feed a family of four, pay for children’s education, and take care of his blind mother. Their daughter, Xiong Dandan, recalls that when she was a child, her family could only afford to buy a few kilograms of pork even for the biggest events like the Spring Festival. Relatives would not stay for dinner while paying them the New Year visit, to avoid putting extra financial burdens on their family.

Back then, Yang chopped wood in the mountains and picked up pine needles and mushrooms which could be sold at the market. Occasional­ly when she got a bit of extra money, she would buy herself some art paper and cut one sheet into four, “to draw three more pictures.”

Her husband, Xiong Qifa, could not understand why she insisted on painting, given the family’s financial difficulti­es. “Painting costs money, and a family like ours cannot afford it,” Xiong told reporters that their family had to borrow money for children’s tuition fees and later marriage expenses, all of which had only just recently been paid off.

The couple once had a conflict. Xiong needed a minor surgery and set aside RMB 3,000 yuan for it. Later when he saw his wife mounting 13 paintings, he thought she had misappropr­iated the money set aside for his operation. He was so blinded by anger that he burned a large stack of her paintings. Yet in fact, the money for mounting paintings was the money she had been saving for a whole year.

In order to buy painting materials, Yang rarely bought anything for herself. She had worn the same green cotton-padded coat for more than 20 years until its cuffs ripped open and showed the cotton inside. Seeing that we have noticed it, she hurriedly tucked the cotton back in.

“Nothing makes me happier than painting. Whenever I paint, an indescriba­ble peace fills my heart,” she said.

One More Wish After Diagnosed with Cancer

Grandma Yang’s paintings are mostly about simple rural life, from scenes of natural landscapes to farmland, all of which are full of peace and solitude as well as warmth and grace.

She never formally learned how to paint and doesn’t even know where to sign her own name. Yet painting is not difficult for her. “I feel happy and relaxed when I paint. I can paint whatever I want. I stop painting when I don’t feel like going on.”

In November last year, Grandma Yang was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at Wuhan Tongji Hospital. She is in so much pain whenever she has a flare-up of the disease that she can’t even turn over in bed. Because of this, she hasn’t touched her paintbrush for quite some time.

No one told her how long she still could live. “My family never talks about it, and I’ve never asked them. My disease adds more to our family debt.” She sighed, as she lay on the old sofa at home, looking at the sun outside the window, “I have lived so long and experience­d so much. I’m very happy to be able to find the hobby of my life.”

Out of the blue, she got into the mood and insisted on drawing a picture one day. Despite the difficulty to control her shaking hands, she kept going and sketched out the familiar old buffalo and dead tree in a few strokes. “I’ll keep on painting to the day I go to my end.”

“If you ask me whether I’ve got any more wishes, the answer is ‘yes.’ And that is to have an exhibition of my paintings in the school of the town, if they can give me a classroom,” Grandma Yang said. She wants to show her paintings to the children, hoping they would understand that if one sticks to their interests and never gives up, the world is sure to be their oyster. (Translatio­n: Lu Qiongyao)

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