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"Finding Me and Healing You"
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"Finding Me and Healing You"

My hometown Ya’an, a city in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, is the home of the giant panda, known as China’s national treasure. People in Ya’an feel proud of having the panda as a companion and treat it as an exclusive privilege. As a young painter, I draw pandas for my hometown, which gives me not only a sense of pride and joy, but also achievement and fulfilment.

As the chief color painter of Ya’an Culture and Tourism Group, my team and I have been decorating the city with graffiti art to create a more friendly environment for local people.

Different from Western-style hip-hop art or street art, we treat urban graffiti art as an information and cultural tool for policy communication, information dissemination, moral education, and science popularization.

Yaya and An’an 

Yaya and An’an are two pandas named after the city of Ya’an. People from Ya’an are fans of pandas and they consider the two cute creatures as the mascots of their hometown.

We have painted Yaya and An’an in various forms and they are spreading messages related to urban civilization, traffic rules, hygiene practices, safe use of electricity and so on in different corners of the city. Their images are even used as stickers in WeChat. The pandas are as enthusiastic, friendly, cute, open, inclusive and busy as the people here in Ya’an in building their beloved hometown.

The largest graffiti of Yaya and An’an, measuring 10 meters high and 10 meters wide, was painted at both ends of the Qingbi Mountain Tunnel in Yucheng District. We spent six nights to finish the graffiti. As the tunnel is the main passage connecting Ya’an City with a major highway called Bifengxia, we worked all through the night from 8 p.m. after the tunnel was closed in order to minimize the impact upon the traffic. With colorful images, we transformed the tunnel into a “panda garden” surrounded by green bamboo trees. It serves as a welcome note to visitors.

One Panda a day 

When the COVID-19 pandemic was still raging in October 2022, an Internet buzzword challenge went viral in Ya’an: If the lockdown measures are lifted tomorrow, I would…

Some said they would drink the water of the Qingyi River, a major tributary of the Yangtze River; some said they would clean the street; and some said they would mop the stairs of Jinfeng Mountain. I posted a sentence on Douyin, a short-video social media platform in China, “If the lockdown measures are lifted tomorrow, I would draw 1,000 pandas for Ya’an free of charge, from new city zones to old towns, from train station to bus stations, on every corner of the city of Ya’an.” The post got 200,000 views and after we got back to normal, my followers said they would be my “supervisors.”

That pledge has made me busier than ever. If I draw one panda a day, it will still take more than two and a half years to finish. But I must walk the talk despite all the difficulties. On the morning of October 15, 2022, I started painting the pandas and so far, I have completed 285 pandas.

I painted them on walls, trees, street stones, drain slabs… I feel like I am a surgeon who is using my brush to sew up the obscure wounds of the city. No matter in which corner, people come and talk to me. “You are the painter who are going to paint 1,000 pandas, we know you,” they would say with a smile. Some would joke, “No scribbling here!” Others would command in our dialect, “Our pandas are so cute, don’t mess up!”

The painting experience enhanced my belief that the giant pandas have a “healing” effect. They heal and fill love in the hearts of the people. The feedbacks and goodwill from the panda fans delighted me.

Once someone told me angrily that a drain slab in Hanyuan Village with a panda image on it was taken home by someone. But I was not angry at all. My aim is not to create landmarks with my art, but build a bridge between pandas and people.

So, I initiated a campaign with my friends themed “Finding Me and Healing You.” We collected cobblestones of all sizes from the bank of the Qingyi River, painted pandas on them, and hid the stones in the gardens of different communities, in the bushes and soil. Then we told our followers to find those pandas and take them home.

We hid 66 stones and they were found by people in no time. Those who found the stones posted their photos on their WeChat Moments to share their happiness with their friends. “Look! I have my own panda! I told you everyone in Ya’an can have his or her own panda, I didn’t brag.” I attained a sense of achievement every time I heard about such posts. Although the pandas were painted for free, I hope each of them can make a family happy.

A Panda Home 

An exhibition themed “Pandas Go Home — New National Style Panda Art Tour Exhibition” will take place in 2023 and 50 artists who have panda-related works will exhibit their works.

I am invited to paint on site. I’m also labelled as Gen Z KOL (key opinion leader) of panda. Gen Z refers to those born after 1995 who have close connection with Internet and smartphones. They are also closely associated with anime. I was born in the 1980s so I feel strange about such characterisation. But I love the method of off-the-cuff painting — it’s extremely attractive. Painting a picture called “Home of Pandas” on a nine-square-meter pure white space is both brain-racking and challenging for me.

I began thinking about ideas the moment I got the invitation. I hope to find a special, curative, unfettered and resolute art language to express the happiness of the panda home.

Since it is associated with anime, I plan to adopt a “super-flat style” to draw pandas and its animal friends, carpeting the space with densely packed panda images so as to make these two-dimensional images stretch smoothly like water of an ocean. People inside the space will mix reality with dreams. That’s a cute and complicated expression of my plan and I hope my idea will bring the audience simple and pure happiness.

Are you curious about my works? If so, accept my invitation to the “Pandas Go Home” exhibition!

China TodayGu Yetao

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