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
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。
“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。
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
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)