“In 2011, I went to Xishuangbanna, visiting Mengla and Yiwu, the tea highlands. When I was there, I was invited by a beautiful young mother to visit her tiny tea factory and to have lunch. I was really touched by the hospitality.
Since then, it had always been my desire to go back to Xishuangbanna in a way which I could serve the community. I was really ecited to find ACAF's Arts Can Do Artist's Residency in Yunnan. Through this program, I have been teaching arts to children at Longlin Primary School, which is located in the beautiful countryside surrounded by hills on all sides and close to a Dai ethnic village. My residency started on 20 September, I would like to stay for three months to work on two art projects, which will involve the participation of the children.
I have been conducting art classes for children from grade one to grade six, five days a week with two to three classes per day. So far, the pupils have been brilliant, very creative and are not shy to show it. Since I can speak fluent Mandarin, it is easy for me to communicate with the pupils as we don't have language barrier.
Usually, I will draw something on the chalk board or show them my artworks, for example a few motifs. Then, I will encourage them to come up with their own designs but I will advise them on colour combinations which will give the best result for their motive designs. Then, I will walk around to see their progress and give my advice. Normally, I allow them to talk to their classmates during my class as long as they are engaging in their drawing or painting.
On the second week, during an extracurricular activity session, we took a group of selected pupils to go for observation drawing at the nearby Dai ethnic village.
This week I showed the pupils of grade four and six photos of bizarre trees from around the world. The pupils were in awe when they saw photos of Bottle tree (Australia), Kapok tree (Florida) and so on.
Then, I showed them my artistic interpretations of these trees on papers. Again, they were in awe. While drawing the tree on the chalk board, a voice from a pupil asked " Teacher, are you an artist?". I replied: "I think so. "
I drew the tree step by step, walking around from time to time to make sure the pupils could keep up. I told the pupils that they didn't have to draw exactly as I drew. Some of the bottle trees they drew looked a bit like carrots.
I taught the grade three pupils a simple way to draw a peacock. Peacock is closely associated with Dai culture and frequently featured in Dai art. Grade two pupils are the quietest during my art class. My plan was to teach them how to draw animals formed by oval shape. I started with drawing a bat. A boy gave me the right answer when I asked the class where do bats normally live.
I told them that I once crawled into a very narrow cave, flashing my torch light to see hundreds of bats hanging upside down on the cave walls. Then one pupil told me that she saw bats near her house. After exchanging stories, we were inspired to draw a cave with bats flying out from the cave and a spiderweb with a spider on it. The pupils later added stars and moon to compliment the drawing.
During the second week of my stay at Longlin school, some pupils especially pupils from grade one started showering me with gifts in the forms of biscuit, steamed sweet potatoes, bracelet, fruit, moon cakes, and drawings. Looking at the smiles on their faces, I knew I have been doing something right.” (Kriss Wong, Yunnan, Oct 2015)
The children Kriss is working with have very little chance to create art as their remote school is very poor and has no funding for art or any creative work. They live very isolated lives under the care of elderly relatives who themselves have little education. They may see their parents only one a year or even less. As a result they suffer from withdrawl and other emotional problems that affect their ability to interact with adults and to make the most of the little educational opportunities they have. The art program that artists such as Kriss help Arts Can Do provide brings hope to these children, encourages self confidence and the ability to relate to the outside world. (Yashian Schauble)