A Russian artist has spent the past few months painting a school in Pingtung County awash in color, using her knowledge of child psychology to guide her brush.
Strongly affected by Taiwan’s falling birthrate, Da Tong Primary School has cut its classes down to only six, leaving large parts of its campus empty.
To enliven the space, more than 20 walls are now sporting colorful murals of sea creatures, Chinese and Western zodiac signs, cartoons and even 3D scenes accompanied by slogans in English.
Photo courtesy of Da Tong Primary School via CNA
Tatiana Yu (尤湯雅) can be spotted there every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, painting for three to four hours at a time, even as temperatures climb above 38oC.
School principal Chi Yung-ming (季永明) on Monday last week said that after taking the position in September last year, he discovered a fading mural in a corner of campus and immediately began asking about the artist’s identity.
He found that it was the work of an immigrant artist from Russia, who originally specialized in studying children’s art, Chi said.
He had the idea to fill the campus with art to capture students’ imaginations, and after discussing with Yu, he decided that an underwater scene should be painted first, Chi said.
In their months working together, Chi said that he has come to feel Yu’s passion for art.
Yu has since painted large swathes of the campus, including both sides of its outer wall, the administrative building and a slide.
“When walking through campus, every turn, every wall has a surprise,” Chi said.
“The old, drab walls have new meaning,” he said. “Even the abandoned elephant slide has been reimagined under Yu’s colorful brush to become an installation straight from the children’s book series Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.”
Chiu Miao-miao (邱妙妙), who heads the school’s parent-teacher association, said that Yu’s paintings fill the school with warmth and energy.
Yu came to Pingtung from Russia 15 years ago to marry a Taiwanese man.
She said that she has studied art since junior high school and in university majored in child psychology.
“Painting and art can help people,” she said. “Images can change people’s psychology.”
After coming to Taiwan, Yu began teaching painting and wire jewelry-making to children, and has even returned to Russia to learn more about the psychology of creating art.
At Da Tong Primary School, Yu said she let her imagination run wild for murals like the one picturing Western zodiac signs, adding that she also strives to encourage participating children to use their creativity.
For example, Gemini is represented by two cats, as they are also social animals that often sleep and play together, while Virgo is a fox, as they are beautiful and smart, she said.
Yu said that she likes to visit Sandimen Township (三地門) in Pingtung County to see the glass beads created there, as their transparent beauty compliments her wire jewelry.
Her hope is to ignite a new creative spark by merging Western and Eastern artistic traditions, she said.
She took a step toward this goal three years ago, when she helped with the National Palace Museum’s exhibition “Giuseppe Castiglione: Visited in Art” in Pingtung County.
Yu said that the nation has a good creative environment — even some of the tools her friends in Russia and Germany cannot find are readily available in Taiwan.
Over her 15 years in Taiwan, Yu said she has not encountered any hardships.
However, this is all psychological: If someone is happy, anywhere will be good; if someone has love, they will be happy anywhere, she added.
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