It’s 04:00 in central Taiwan and everything is asleep, flashing neon signs of the city of Taichung are off and the only movement in the night is the silhouette of a 96-year-old man slowly painting alone in the darkness.
Every morning, Huang Yung-fu flips on a light, shuffles out of his two-room bungalow in sandals and while the city around him sleeps, he crouches on a stool for three hours and quietly decorates the drab cement.
Now in the city tiny tigers leap from the walls, whiskered kittens hide in alleyways and a cheery parade of wide-eyed pandas, peacocks and people peek out from the doorways.
While covering every corner of the village in a vivid dreamscape may seem like Huang’s life work, the self-taught artist only picked up a brush 10 years ago at the age of 86!
Huang Yung-fu today is a 96-year-old, and 10 years ago, exactly in 2009, he received a letter that would change his life forever. The village in which he lived had to be razed to the ground, destroyed to build new buildings by the Taiwanese government. Mr. Huang Yung-fu, who was the last resident of a village born about 40 years earlier, should have gathered all his (few) possessions and moved elsewhere, to a new house with no history or personality.
So, an alternative idea occurred to his mind…
His history, moreover, is quite particular. Huang Yung-fu is a man of Chinese origin, a veteran of the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), which later turned into the Second World War. He was born outside Guangzhou, China, and in 1937, he left home as a 15-year-old boy to fight the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
After World War Two, Huang joined the fight against Mao Zedong’s Communist government as the Chinese Civil War raged on back home. But when the Nationalist Party was defeated in 1949 and Zedong created the People’s Republic of China, Huang and two million other troops and their families followed its Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek, as he fled to Taiwan.
Along with him, in this area, there were about 1200 other families, who animated the place with an intense social life.
As time passed, however, the younger ones began to emigrate, and the elderly to die. Unmarried and with no family in Taiwan, Huang had nowhere to go and so, he remained until he was the last resident left.
Plausibly, the Taiwanese government asked the man to change housing, but the idea of abandoning the only place he could call “home” tormented him, so the soldier picked up a paintbrush. First came the little bird in his bungalow. Then some cats, people and aeroplanes. Soon, his colourful creations began to spill outside and onto the village’s abandoned buildings and streets, that were now uninhabited, giving a first form to a work that in the following 10 years would become something monumental. Today, 10 years later, “Rainbow Grandpa”, as it is known on the web, is a celebrity.
His story was told by a university student who, with a fundraiser and internet tam-tam, made the 96-year-old man in Taiwan famous.
One night in 2010 as Huang toiled away under the moonlight, the student from nearby Ling Tung University stumbled upon the ageing artist and learned of his solitary battle to stave off the government’s bulldozers one brush stroke at a time. After snapping a few images of Huang’s concrete canvas, the student started a fundraising campaign to purchase as much paint for Huang as possible and launched a petition to protest the settlement’s demolition.
“People were amazed at this artist’s passion and touched by students trying to help an old man,” said Andrea Yi-Shan Yang, chief secretary of Taichung’s Cultural Affairs Bureau. “As news of ‘Grandpa Rainbow’ spread, it soon became a national issue. He had our entire society’s attention and compassion.”
For much of the past 10 years, Huang relied on coins left in a donation box outside his bungalow to buy his paint. Now, a group of young people help him sell postcards and illustrations of his work and whatever proceeds don’t go towards his art are donated to local organisations that help the elderly. Today the village has become a monumental work of street art, visited every year by thousands of people, with the Taiwanese government committing itself to keeping alive the work of Huang Yung-fu, avoiding razing a small piece of Taiwan history.
Source: BBC, Images from Web