AIDS-orphaned children find solace in art

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 4, 2012
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A striking picture of large, sparkling round yellow stars set against a velvet cyan sky brings to mind an equally outstanding painting: Starry, Starry Night by Dutch impressionist master, Vincent van Gogh.

Yet, this painting, which evokes a masterpiece, is not the work of a professional artist or an aspiring art student. Rather, it is the intuitive creation of a poverty-stricken child who lives in a far-flung village. Sadly, the child is also stricken by the rampant and pitiless Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).


Agatha Lee, director of the art program from Chi Heng Foundation, introduces a painting created by a child from a family affected by AIDS in the Art Museum of China Central Academy of Fine Arts on Dec. 30, 2011. []

Such a painting and the sentiments of its creator show how trivial many of our problems are by comparison. They also illustrate the bravery and untarnished optimism of children living in the most desperate circumstances. "The night sky is more beautiful with the stars," wrote the young artist who painted the work. "I will work hard to become the brightest star in the sky."

Similar inspiring paintings created by young AIDS orphans are currently being exhibited at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, and will be on display until Jan. 14 and the proceeds from the exhibition will go towards funding AIDS-afflicted orphans. Visitors will get a glimpse into the inner world of these once stigmatized youngsters who find consolation in art and face their difficulties with courage, wit and creativity.

"We will experience different kinds of difficulties in our life," wrote another young artist who portrayed a child walking along a snowy road, fighting against the howling wind. "Fall back? No! I must not give up. Just like the person in this drawing, I should keep moving forward towards my goal."

However, even such courage requires a helping hand sometimes. The hand came in the form of Agatha Lee, a former Hong Kong art educator who now heads the Chi Heng Foundation (CHF) art program, which helps these young artists to bring their dreams to vivid life.

Lee was first alerted to the plight of the AIDS-stricken children by Chung To, a former Hong Kong banker who is now the full-time chairman of CHF. The pair met at a charity fair held by Rotary International, a worldwide philanthropic organization.


A painting created by a child whose father died of AIDS displays the child’s longing for parental love. []

"He (To) showed me several pictures which had been composed with pencils," Lee recollected. "He said that they were the work of children from AIDS families." Lee said she was appalled by the suffering and plight of the children and felt a burning desire to help them.

In 2006, she retired early from her post to visit the desolate rural areas where the orphans live. She came to fight the discrimination which plagued them, armed with volunteers and painting tools, which together weaved bright, colorful pictures before the eyes of the world-weary, grieving kids. Eventually, the children wove magic spells of their own.

"The child trudging against the snowy storm is my favorite painting, I'll never sell it," said Lee. As a result of her solemn commitment and great compassion, Lee has established a powerful emotional bond with the AIDS orphans, who are mostly from Anhui and Henan provinces. Her helping hand has given these desperate children the chance to vent their frustrations and become invigorated with fresh hope.

However, success required patience. "The children's reaction to our painting class was initially rather lukewarm," Lee recalled. "But, bit by bit, their interest grew and by the third and fourth days they were hooked."

In addition to holding painting clubs in the children's hometowns, the foundation selects a number of children annually to visit big cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, for inspiration and enlightenment. "When they know more about the world, they want to fly higher in the sky," Lee said. And their efforts are starting to pay off.

Xiao Wei (who asked not to be identified by his real name) is from an AIDS family in Henan. He stands as a shining example, having been accepted by a university in Beijing thanks to constant funding from CHF. He said the foundation's art program opened a complete new visual world to him. He dreams of being an interior designer, helping people to create comfortable living spaces. "Homes are important to people," said Xiao. "I hope I can design many cozy and warm homes."

Pi Li, a teacher at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts and the visual supervisor of the exhibition at the opening ceremony, wanted to remind people of the need to remember those less fortunate at such a joyful time of year. "New Year's Eve is approaching and everybody is celebrating in our school," said Pi. "But there are lots of people who have no chance to enjoy the celebrations, which is why we wanted to hold this exhibition and share their dreams and passion."


The starry sky created by a child from a family affected by AIDS bears a resemblance to Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry, Starry Night.” []

Some of the dreams are heartbreaking and offer a poignant reminder of the damage inflicted by AIDS.

"I really want to see my dad. When my dad was still alive, he really cared about me, loved me," an AIDS orphan named A Lun (not her real name) wrote for her painting. "Dad, I miss you so much. Those kids who have dads are so lucky and happy. If I have the chance, I'll take a spacecraft to come visit you in the other world."

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