用美術療癒社會:劉秀美

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2010 / 1月

文‧郭麗娟 圖‧劉秀美提供


近年來,一種由民間推動的藝術改革運動「國民美術」,讓許多從未受過訓練的民眾提起畫筆大膽創作,這些人包括白髮蒼蒼的老人、長期遭受家暴的離婚婦女、被迫或自願出賣肉體的少女、因職業傷害造成身體殘缺的工傷者、遠嫁來台的東南亞籍媳婦等等。


這群底層創作者,脫離傳統繪畫的既定認知,直接訴諸自身的情感與遭遇,畫面中所呈現的二戰末期空襲恐慌、祖母祭拜亡魂的幼時回憶、工傷者的斷臂之痛,甚至經期中的浴血女人……。這些曾經或現在,發生在我們週遭的真實畫面,不僅在學院體制外補白台灣美術史的空缺不足,也讓創作者透過畫作自我療癒,並奪回屬於自己的文化解釋權。

1992年即投入「國民美術」教學的劉秀美說:「有了藝術,一個人就會很強壯。」她自己曾是受惠者,如今把這個種子廣為散播,在美術界與社運界都激起了廣大的迴響。

繼2008年成立實驗性劇團「破洞歌舞團」後,2009年7月成立台灣第一所美術女學校「野熊酒吧」的劉秀美,將她提倡「國民美術」的發想,歸功於她的母親──知名的庶民畫家陳月里。

尋找一種顏色

劉秀美,1951年生於台北萬華,原本富裕的劉家,因二次大戰後國府驟然實施幣制改革(4萬元舊台幣兌一元新台幣),讓他們形同破產;成長於日治時期的父母,所受的教育也因政權移轉一夜之間全部歸零。面對新語言、新文化再學習的挫折,父親選擇自絕於社會的避世態度,終因邊緣化而導致貧困。

以幫小商家寫日文信、補絲襪為生的母親陳月里,一手撐起這個赤貧之家並照顧4名幼子,且盡己所能地給孩子各種奇特的生活美學經驗。例如她會帶孩子搭車到基隆港口看海,然後隨興提議尋找某一種顏色,這個遊戲可以從基隆所有委託行的衣料,一直找到海鷗翱翔的天空。

「藉由尋覓忘卻飢餓,這種超脫痛苦的訓練經常在童年演習。」劉秀美清楚記得,許多次,家中米缸全空,孩子們因飢餓感到沮喪時,母親會穿起父親的大黑西裝和雨鞋,拿雨傘權充拐杖,跳著默劇大師卓別林的特殊舞步逗他們開心,讓她從小對卓別林相當著迷。

5歲那年,兩個姐姐相繼入學,母親忙著照顧年幼的弟弟,她經常獨自一人在街上撿拾汽水瓶和舊報紙,變賣後買票看卓別林的電影。

「卑微出身的卓別林,在逗人發笑的喜劇背後,還包含對貧苦人家的憐惜,他所描述的貧窮人家情節跟我的真實家境相仿,透過電影的詮釋,讓我體悟到──只要不屈服,貧窮可以使人更有活力。」

母親與女兒

家境窮困讓她常因襪子不同顏色被同學取笑欺侮,午休時還常假藉洗臉,然後大口大口喝自來水止飢,卻也因此激發她的意志力,放學後經常到印刷廠撿廢紙練習畫畫,作品參賽得獎,讓她擁有別處得不到的尊嚴,美術老師江漢東也特別教她抽象畫。

國中畢業後劉秀美進入廣告公司當美術助理,再到卡通部門學畫卡通,動畫的分格訓練,讓自學出身的她奠下紮實基礎。之後還擔任過針花、玩具、皮包等設計工作。

24歲時,劉秀美嫁給工廠小開,因為無法忍受「強勢寡母與花天酒地子女的組合」,婚姻僅維持1年。帶著女兒成為單親媽媽後,經濟拮据的她無法提供太多玩樂給孩子,於是模仿母親當年,帶孩子坐火車辨識沿途景物消磨時光,然而女兒與她只有短短9年緣分,就被疑似腦瘤的病痛奪走生命。

「孩子死後,我第一次認識『死』這個字。」經過好幾年的調適,她才從陰暗的幽谷中走出來,畫下〈最狂烈的家家酒遊戲〉,以宛如歡愉祭典般的氣氛,紀念早凋的蓓蕾。

因為第二段婚姻,劉秀美正式定居淡水。蜿蜒小巷、老街的神秘店鋪、比鄰水域的海水味、走唱的盲歌手金門王與記者潘小俠、茶室風光與嫖客、歌手與古董商……,成為她生活中與畫筆下另一個豐富多樣的世界,並與年過50才重拾畫筆的母親合組工作室,1990年在台北彩田畫廊展出自傳體式的「私房菜展」。

這次個展中,童年生活在畫布上交織著一種奇特的記憶與情感,例如,母親竟在連買菜錢都不夠的情況下,還買了一只青花瓶,經歷無數次搬家竟然沒有破損,「既然生命的苦楚無可避免,及時行歡竟成了不向命運低頭的一種昂然姿態。」

有感情,就畫得出來

1992年,劉秀美母女和女畫家周邱英薇,應台北縣立文化中心邀請,以流動老人美術學校的方式,巡迴台北縣29個鄉鎮從事美術教學。這個初次將美術創作種子撒向民間社會的田野經驗,讓她察覺到民間所潛藏的美術生機。

1995年,老人美術教學實驗在精緻美術風盛行的台北市展開,劉秀美在全景社區電台開講並接受call in報名,組成「全景老人美術班」,這是國內第一個真正以「國民美術」精神營造出來的民間畫會。隔年,社會局提供民生里活動中心為場地,並更名為「笑哈哈畫會」,持續至今。

雖然是教鮮少甚至從未拿過畫筆的老人畫畫,劉秀美仍強調「藝術就是技術」。她讓學員拿鏡子觀察自己的五官,並用比擬方式,如蒜頭或蓮霧比擬鼻子、葡萄比擬眼睛;用衣架解釋身體肩線、腰身等比例構造;以雕塑方式觀察厚薄、寬窄;採用攝影快門「視覺暫留」的手法來培養圖象記憶、訓練快速素描等。

劉秀美一邊教技巧,一邊讓學員畫出生命經歷。例如,用衣架解釋身體比例構造後,就請學員畫出一生中最重要的3件衣服,然後輪流上台講述畫中故事。歐吉桑們通常以軍服為榮,老太太們則驕傲地展示孕婦裝、一女中制服,或是決定自己命運的相親時的衣服等。

「有情感的力量在裡面,他們很自然就畫得出來。」劉秀美說,國民美術也是人性藝術,十幾年來,這些老人從彼此的作品中,分享自出生、成長以來的各種辛酸痛苦、歡笑或私密,往往比家人更親近。

重現消失的文化

她也發現這些老人以頑強生命線刻畫的美術作品裡,有許多已經消逝的行業紀錄。例如日治時期祖父在金瓜石經營「鈔利搗礦場」的鄭炯輝,將當時用水車淘洗金砂的過程,一一用圖畫記錄下來,補白缺乏田野調查及攝影記錄年代的台灣採礦史。

又如,林洪氣女士將日治時期農村日常事物,如泡稻草、搓草繩、編草袋、編草蓆的方法和機器做精細描寫;謝招治女士則畫出日治時期大戶人家迎娶的盛況,從在西門町最豪華的菊元百貨男女雙方相親,一直到擺出嫁蛫C街給鄰人看的華麗排場。透過畫面不難體會,當時為何會有窮人家因為擺不出嫁萓茪W吊自殺。

此外,還有來自中國國共內戰、台籍日本兵等不同族群的戰爭經驗,以及迫於大時代動盪播遷到陌生島嶼的失根,島民一夕之間改朝換代的感傷與適應錯亂……,台灣的多元與活力,在畫作中一覽無遺。

除了以美術搶救消失歷史的功能外,老人在美術中所表現的「情色狂想」,也是重新理解老人社會的一扇重要窗口。

劉秀美笑說,從全景開放報名時,就有歐吉桑探問「可不可以畫『黃色』的?」有的老人對新婚之夜念念不忘,有的對茶室女、檳榔西施或外籍新娘充滿渴望,但又怕講出來被罵是「不良老人」。畫好了要發表時,教室裡的歐巴桑們就用手遮住眼睛、或是乾脆趴在桌上,一面聽「男同學」自吹自嘆,一面又好笑又羞赧。

底層社會的美術豐年祭

「國民美術」以非學院派美術基調的發展過程,巧妙地與1998年國內社區大學興起的「解放知識」風潮接軌,因而在這些社區基地找到和學院對話的管道。其中,汐止社大是最早將國民美術納入教育學程的社區大學。

汐止社大主任潘英海表示:「國民美術像集體參與的美術豐年祭,劉秀美在社區成立畫會,建構集體記憶,並且讓底層社會民眾的情緒壓抑得到集體性的宣洩。」劉秀美的先生、淡水社大主任張建隆也希望透過開辦「亞洲婦女國民美術班」,實踐「藝術賦權」的理念。

2001年,蘆荻社區大學和「工作傷害受害人協會」合作,邀請她為工傷者及其家屬上繪畫課。

以往工傷者上繪畫課,總是被教導用不靈活的口、足、義肢,根據臨摹畫稿完成與他們淒苦心境迥異的「錦鯉」、「山水」等粉飾太平的畫面,然後義賣賺錢。然而劉秀美卻鼓勵工傷者勇敢畫出自己的感覺,並於2002年成立「工殤畫會」展出「工殤美展」,這是國內首次由工傷者以畫筆記錄自己的故事,為台灣的勞動環境實相留下歷史見證。

「參加畫會以前,我認為藝術很遙遠,對我們這些連三餐溫飽都自顧不暇的人來說,根本『玩』不起。」二十多歲就因工作時遭高壓電擊導致右手、左腳截肢的張榮隆,藉畫作〈背影〉直訴失去肢體者的落寞與酸楚;為了不敢也不願在別人的眼光中看到自己「淒慘」的模樣,只能在深夜無人的醫院走廊上,穿著剛做好的義肢,忍受剛癒合好的傷口磨擦、撞擊硬梆梆的塑膠纖維,來回練習原本習以為常的動作──走路。

18歲,花樣年華的連庭玉,在紡織廠被纖維機頭輾傷,右手肘下截肢,20年後畫出〈擠壓的心情〉:一個穿著透明衣裙的女人,左手拿著義肢,腳上綁著鐵鍊,篤定且堅強地在腰部寫著「不要流血!」

受暴婦女 找尋生命出口

無論是受到老一輩「成家立業」或年輕一代「愛情無國界」的觀念影響,台灣的外籍配偶數量近年逐年攀升,然而家暴事件也隨之頻傳,由於語言文化隔閡,讓外配成為社會最弱勢的一群。

為了提供更好的服務,婦女展業協會北投婦女中心接受劉秀美「弱勢者也應該享有藝術福利」的觀點,1997年開辦全國第一個以東南亞婦女為主的藝術課程,學員包括印尼、越南、菲律賓、泰國和大陸籍配偶。

第一堂課,劉秀美請學員說出自己在家鄉的乳名,憶起故鄉回想童年,學員的心瞬間軟化了;接著回想家鄉過年時的習俗,「聽了她們的講述後才知道,越南人過年時會在家裡佈置一個大西瓜,衛生棉更是外籍新娘返鄉探親的熱門伴手禮。」

4年前「阿淑」從越南嫁到台灣後,便每天面對一連串無止盡的咆哮、謾罵和拳打腳踢,所幸繪畫適時為她陷入絕望的人生找到出口。雖然首次拿起畫筆時還緊張得發抖,甚至邊畫邊流淚,但畫作完成時,「已經被遺忘很久的自信和自尊,好像又跑回來了。」甚至可以勇敢地向先生說:「不!」

內在的「光榮革命」

劉秀美也曾應「法律扶助基金會」花蓮分會之邀,前往原鄉授課,她讓原住民婦女利用圖畫和文字,盡情抒發對施暴者的憤怒。賽夏族婦女八卦草,丈夫長年用雙手和言語傷害她和3個孩子,她在〈美術殺人〉畫作說明中寫道:「我期待有天『他』的手可以放下,當然能夠斷了更好,嘴巴也可以閉緊幫他以針線縫上,讓他嘗試身體和心靈的疼痛又無助之感。」

劉秀美表示,家暴不是個頭或力氣大小的問題,而是「強者」與「弱者」之爭,而「有了藝術,一個人可以變得很強壯!」因為藝術是主動的、喚起自覺、釐清困惑,並且用美感去轉化、去撫慰的,不像在心理治療中,受害者只是被動接受別人幫助的弱勢者。

「台灣的女權運動一向比較西方、比較菁英,」劉秀美觀察,受暴學員即使參加婦運,也往往被編派去貼郵票、發傳單,做一些很邊緣的事情,讓她們更覺得自己的無能和無力。

「但國民美術教育讓她們變身為藝術家,」當她們對自己有了全新認知後,就不會再任由別人踐踏自己,她們會尋求外界協助,甚至靠自己的力量,讓丈夫不敢再施暴。部分學員走出家暴陰影後成為種子師資,也開始用劉秀美設計的系統式課程來教導其他的受暴婦女。

全程參與課程的法扶會花蓮分會副會長蔡雲卿也表示,學員們畫出自己的傷痛時會掙扎、會痛哭,而伴隨著每一次的憤怒,以往被創傷壓抑住的生命力量就如泉水般湧出,過程雖然澎湃洶湧,卻沒有帶來任何傷害,這是一種內在的「光榮革命」。

少女的集體壁畫運動

在藉國民美術進行藝術治療的過程中,最讓劉秀美不捨的,便是被迫或自願出賣肉體的少女和童妓。1998年她接受「中華民國終止童妓協會」之邀,為收容在廣慈博愛院的少女們上課,「不管是否出於自願,歷經成人世界的蹂躪與價值觀扭曲下,這些少女看事情的角度與身體經驗,都與同年齡的女孩不同。」

劉秀美決定「用她們的舞步跳向她們」,她用「鋪天蓋地」的整捆油畫布,訓練學員創作大型的肖像壁畫,讓她們把自己從畏縮、萎縮的姿態中解放出來,鼓勵她們要有「鋼鐵般的意志」、要奪回生命的自主權,不要再忍受愛情、親情的箝制,也不再受貧困、低學歷或是貞操觀念的束縛。

「能量夠的人,就自己畫一幅;如果不行,集體創作也可以。」這些巨大的肖像與壁畫,不僅是個人的生命宣言,也是女人攜手,互相扶持壯大的見證。

1999年,這群少女們成立「少女情色畫會」。劉秀美表示,國內外的美術社會一向很少有「少女」這個年齡層的畫家,她們的創作是美術史的奇蹟。2001年畫會舉辦「青春,與色彩共舞」畫展,不僅成為藝文界的焦點,這些少女畫家還特地邀請與她們有類似經歷,來自台中、高雄、花蓮等收容中心的少女來看畫展。當她們開口介紹自己的作品,回憶過去被老鴇毒打、被嫖客性傷害的往事,所有與會者都紅了眼眶。

布農族少女烏力將自己化身為〈蘆葦中的少女〉,嬌小童稚的身影如此無助,在另一幅〈大安森林的浪人〉中,她又以被鋸斷的樹枝,暗喻自己就像倒臥都市叢林的枯枝,無力而孤獨。李萍兒則在T恤上畫出整個人體內臟,將標題定為「有穿等於沒穿」,是創作者在擺脫傷害記憶之餘,反諷社會的作品。劉秀美說:「只有真正驕傲的心靈,才能夠坦然而且透明地面對靈魂所遭受的傷害事件。」

新美術運動

為了讓學員卸除心防、把創作當成遊戲,除在課堂上作畫外,劉秀美還會帶領學員到不同場所觀察台灣人的生活。例如老年人就帶他們去陽明山溫泉區、迪化街等,瞭解其他老人的文化和生活習慣;外籍新娘們就帶去舞廳,研究「男人學」,讓她們多瞭解台灣男性的文化消遣、娛樂生活。

多年來,「國民美術」的理念已在台灣各地透過社區總體營造被落實,吸引多元背景的社會大眾參與,讓美術不再是少數中產階級的專利,而是人人都可用畫筆彩繪自己的人生故事。這不僅是台灣的新美術運動,也是一種新社會運動!

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Tapping the Healing Power of Art--Liu Siu-mei

Kuo Li-chuan /photos courtesy of courtesy of Liu Siu-mei /tr. by Scott Williams

For the last several years, the so-called Civilian Arts Movement has been encouraging people without any training in the arts to take up painting. These budding painters include gray-haired senior citizens, divorced victims of long-term domestic violence, young prostitutes, workers disabled by occupational injuries, and immigrant brides from Southeast Asia.


These economically and socially disadvantaged artists have escaped the bounds of traditional painting to give direct expression to their own feelings and experiences. Their work depicts a variety of subjects: the terror of an air-raid at the end of World War 2, childhood memories of a grandmother making offerings to the spirits of the dead, a disabled worker's pain at the loss of an arm, and even a woman bathed in blood during her menstrual period. Their realistic portrayals of subjects we've seen before or see now in the world around address topics historically overlooked by Taiwanese art while simultaneously helping their creators heal themselves and reclaim their right to interpret their culture for themselves.

Liu Siu-mei, who became involved in Civilian Art education in 1992, argues that art makes people strong. Having herself benefited from the arts, she continues to sow their seeds around Taiwan, in the process earning acclaim from both the art world and society at large.

Artist Liu Siu-mei, who founded the Podong Dance Company in 2008 and Taiwan's first art school for girls in July 2009, traces her notion of Civilian Art to her mother, Chen Yueh-li, herself a renowned painter.

Searching for a color

Liu was born in Taipei's Wanhua District in 1951 to a once-wealthy family effectively bankrupted by the Nationalist government's abrupt enactment of currency reform after World War 2. (The reform converted Taiwan dollars to New Taiwan dollars at a rate of 40,000:1.) The political handover of Taiwan to the Nationalists made her father's Japanese education virtually worthless overnight. When he elected to withdraw from the world rather than face the prospect of learning a new language and culture, the family ended up in poverty.

Liu's mother, Chen Yueh-li, cared for her four children while also keeping the family afloat by mending stockings and writing letters in Japanese for small business owners. In spite of the demands on her time, Chen did her utmost to provide her children with a variety of aesthetic experiences. One activity involved taking them to Keelung Harbor to see the ocean, then suggesting that they try to find a particular color. Games like this one, which revolved around Keelung's fabric consignment shops, provided the family with a momentary escape.

"The search let us forget that we were hungry," says Liu. "Training to detach from suffering in this way usually occurs in childhood." Liu well remembers the many times the family's rice bin was empty. When hunger had the kids feeling down, their mother would cheer them up by putting on a big black suit and rain boots, picking up an umbrella, and doing a Charlie Chaplin routine. Liu has loved Chaplin's work ever since.

Liu's two older sisters started school when she was five. With her mother busy caring for her younger brother, Liu wandered the streets alone, collecting empty soda bottles and old newspapers to scrounge money for tickets to Chaplin movies.

"Chaplin was born poor and his empathy for the poor permeates his comedies," says Liu. "He placed his destitute characters in situations that were much like my family's real life, and his films enabled me to realize that as long as you don't give up, poverty can encourage you to live more vigorously."

Mother and daughter

As a child, Liu was often laughed at by classmates for the mismatched socks that her family's poverty compelled her to wear. She even used to slip out during lunch to "wash her face," using her moments out of the classroom to guzzle water to assuage her hunger. But these hardships hardened her resolve. She made a habit of dropping by a printer's after school to collect scrap paper to practice her drawing, and when her work won prizes, she earned respect she didn't get in other areas of her life. She also had an art teacher who made a point of teaching her oil portraiture.

After graduating from middle school, Liu went to work for an ad agency as an art assistant, then into its cartoon department as a cartoonist. Animation training helped Liu, who had long been an autodidact, strengthen her foundation in the arts. She later went on to design knitting patterns, toys, and purses.

Liu married the son of a factory owner at the age of 24, but, unable to bear her overbearing widowed mother-in-law or her drunken, philandering husband, she divorced him only a year later. As a single mother too financially strapped to provide her daughter with much in the way of entertainment, she emulated her mother, taking her daughter on train rides and whiling away the hours playing games around identifying scenes along the tracks. Sadly, she was to have only nine years with her daughter, who died young of what was likely a brain tumor.

"I first came to understand 'death' when my child passed away," says Liu. It was years before she emerged from the dark valley of depression to paint Playing House Like Mad, a seemingly festive piece memorializing her little girl.

Liu's second marriage brought her to Danshui, a town whose winding alleys, mysterious shops, sea scent, blind minstrel Jinmen Wang and journalist Pan Hsiao-hsia, the "teahouses" and johns, songs and antique stores became rich fodder for her life and work. She established a studio with her mother, who had returned to painting at the age of 50, and, in 1990, held an autobiographical exhibition at Taipei's Caitian Gallery.

The work on display at that exhibition interwove her childhood memories and feelings. For example, at a time when her mother didn't even have enough money to put food on the table, she bought a blue vase that went on to survive unscathed their many moves into new digs. "Even when life's hardships can't be avoided, you can face down Fate by taking pleasure in the moment," she says.

Painting what you feel

In 1992, at the invitation of the Taipei County Cultural Center Liu, her mother, and Zhou Qiu Yingwei set up a mobile arts school for senior citizens that brought art education to 29 of the county's townships. It was Liu's first experience with taking art education to the community, and made her aware of the potential vitality of the arts among the masses.

In 1995, Liu initiated a senior arts education experiment in fine-arts-friendly Taipei City. She began it by lecturing on the Quanjing Community radio station and accepting call-in registrations for what became the Quanjing Seniors Art Class, the nation's first public painting society formed in the spirit of Liu's Civilian Art. The following year, the society changed its name to the Laughing Painting Society and, at the invitation of the Department of Social Welfare, moved into the Minsheng Borough Activity Center. The society is still active today.

Though the seniors painting have had very little prior training in the arts and in some cases had never even held a brush before, Liu stresses that "art is technique." With that in mind, she uses a number of pedagogic techniques, including having them study their faces in a mirror and make comparisons, e.g. comparing the nose to a head of garlic or a wax apple, and the eyes to grapes; using a clothes hanger to explain the proportions and structure of shoulders and the torso; using a sculptural approach to observing thick and thin, broad and narrow; using camera-shutter "persistence of vision" techniques to develop image memory; and training them in rapid sketching.

Liu also encourages her students to paint their experiences. For example, after using a clothes hanger to explain proportions and structure, she asks her students to paint the three most important items of clothing in their lives, then has them take turns telling the stories behind them. The old men are typically proud of their military uniforms, while the women tend to paint their middle-school uniforms, maternity dresses, or the clothes they were wearing when they were first introduced to their spouses.

"If there's emotional force within," says Liu, "they'll bring it out naturally in a painting." She says that her Civilian Art is a humanistic art. Over the last decade-plus, her seniors have shared the pain, sorrow, joys, and secrets of their lives with one another through their paintings. In the process, they've become closer to one another than they are to even their families.

Depicting lost culture

She also noticed that the artworks of her elderly students also contained images of many trades that have disappeared. For example, Zheng Jionghui's grandfather ran a mine in Jinguashi during the period of Japanese rule. By illustrating every step of the waterwheel-driven gold extraction process, Zheng has filled in a bit of Taiwan's mining history missed by field surveys and the photographic record.

Similarly, Madame Lin Hongqi's paintings include detailed depictions of everyday activities from the Japanese era, including techniques and devices for soaking rice straw, twisting rope, and weaving grass bags and mats. Meanwhile, Xie Zhaozhi has painted sumptuous scenes of a wealthy family welcoming a new bride in the Japanese era. Xie's work details everything from the prospective couple's first introduction to one another at the finest department store in Ximending to the parading of the dowry through the streets for the neighbors to see. In so doing, her work makes it easier to understand why poor folk unable to pay a dowry sometimes hanged themselves.

Other pieces depict different ethnic groups' experiences of war via scenes of the Chinese civil war and Taiwanese soldiers in the Japanese army, images suggestive of the sense of rootlessness of those compelled to relocate to a strange island in 1949, and portrayals of the pain and difficulties that island residents had adjusting to the rapid regime change.... Together, these works make plain both the diversity and vitality of Taiwan.

In addition to rescuing lost histories, some seniors are using art to express their erotic fantasies, providing an important new window into understanding elderly communities.

Liu laughs and says that there have been elderly men asking her whether they could paint racy images ever since she began the Quanjing call-in registrations. Some seniors have never forgotten their wedding night, while others remain filled with desire for "teahouse girls," betel-nut princesses, or immigrant brides but they are afraid to say so for fear of being labeled "dirty old men." When these works are unveiled, the elderly women in the class cover their eyes or lay their heads down on their desks, amused but embarrassed by the brags and laments of their male classmates.

An artistic harvest festival

Civilian art, which is characterized by its non-academic foundation, developed in conjunction with the "liberalization of knowledge" trend kickstarted by Taiwan's community colleges in 1998. In fact, it was these community institutions that opened up a dialogue between Civilian Art and the academy, and Xizhi Community College that first incorporated Civilian Art into its curriculum.

"Civilian Art is like a harvest festival in which participation is collective," says Pan Ing-hai, former director of Xizhi Community College. "Liu Siu-mei has established painting clubs in the community, built a collective memory, and enabled people in the lower socioeconomic strata to collectively give expression to repressed feelings. For his part, Liu's husband, Danshui Community College director Chang Chien-lung, hopes to use the establishment of a "Civilian Art for Asian Women" class to grant more people the right to make art.

In 2001, Ludi Community College and the Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries jointly invited Liu to teach a painting class for injured workers and their families.

In the past, injured workers were taught to paint with less-than-nimble mouths, feet, or prosthetic limbs. They pretended all was well by copying model paintings of carp and landscapes that bore no relationship to the bitterness they felt, producing pieces that were sold at charity bazaars. Liu took a different approach, encouraging them to be bold and paint what they felt. In 2002, she established the Occupational Injuries Painting Society and held an Occupational Injuries Art Exposition. Her endeavors were the first in Taiwan to encourage injured workers to use a brush to relate their own stories and produced actual historical evidence of working conditions on the island.

"Prior to joining the painting society, I thought of art as something remote, something that those of us who can't even provide food and shelter for ourselves could never play at," says Zhang Ronglong. Zhang, whose right arm and left leg had to be amputated after he received a high-voltage shock on the job while in his 20s, expressed the desolation and hardship he has felt as a result of the loss of his limbs in the painting A View of a Back. Unwilling to be pitied, he took to the corridors of the hospital in the dead of night to practice walking with his newly made prosthetic limb, gritting his teeth and bearing the chafing and impacts of the hard plastic of the limb on his just-healed wounds.

At the age of 18, Lian Tingyu lost her right arm below the elbow to a machine in the fabric mill in which she worked. Some 20 years later, she painted A Crushing Mood, which shows a woman in transparent clothing holding a prosthetic limb in her left hand and wearing chains on her legs calmly and resolutely writing "I will not bleed" across her waist.

A way forward

Whether as a result of the older generation's "have a family, build a career" ideology or the younger's "love knows no borders" mentality, the number of foreign brides coming to Taiwan has been on the rise in recent years. Unfortunately, domestic violence has been increasing as well, and linguistic and cultural barriers make foreign brides among the most vulnerable to it.

To better serve the women it aids, the Taiwan Women's Development Association adopted Liu's notion that "the disadvantaged should receive artistic welfare." In 1997, the association offered the nation's first art class targeting primarily Southeast Asian women to students that included immigrant brides from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and mainland China.

In the first class, Liu broke the ice by having students share their family nicknames and recall their childhoods in their hometowns. She then had them relate the New Year's customs of their hometowns. "It was only after hearing their descriptions that I learned that Vietnamese put out a big watermelon for the New Year, and that foreign brides often bring sanitary napkins with them as gifts when they go back home on visits."

After "A-shu" came to Taiwan as a bride four years ago, she became subject to daily verbal lashings and physical violence. Painting offered her a way out of her desperate situation. So nervous the first time she picked up a brush that she shook and even cried as she painted, she nonetheless felt as if she'd recovered her long-lost self-respect and self-confidence when she completed it. Painting even gave her the courage to tell her husband, "No!"

A revolution inside

Liu also accepted an invitation to teach in an Aboriginal village from the Hualien branch of the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF). In that class, she had her female students use words and images to vent as fully as possible the anger they felt towards their abusers. Baguacao, a Saisiyat woman, and her three children had been physically and verbally abused by her husband for years. In her introduction to a piece entitled Art Killer, Baguacao explained, "I hoped that one day 'he' would lower his hands. Or, better still, that I could end it, that I could close his mouth and stitch it up, that I could make him taste pain and powerlessness both physically and spiritually."

Liu argues that domestic violence isn't a question of size or strength, but of power. Moreover, she says, "Art makes people powerful!" Unlike psychotherapies that place victims in the passive role of a weak person receiving assistance from others, art is active; it awakens self-awareness, clarifies confusions, and through the use of the aesthetic sense, transforms and consoles.

"Taiwan's women's rights movement has always been relatively Westernized and elitist," says Liu. She notes that whenever her students who had suffered domestic violence sought to participate in the women's movement, they were given marginal tasks like sticking stamps on envelopes and handing out fliers, reinforcing their sense of uselessness and powerlessness.

"But Civilian Art education has enabled them to become artists," says Liu. Art gives them a completely new understanding of themselves, and they no longer accept being trampled upon by others. Instead, they seek outside help or even act entirely on their own to ensure that their husbands don't dare raise a hand to them again. Having freed themselves from domestic violence, some have gone on to use Liu's system to teach and offer guidance to other women in similar situations.

Cai Yunqing, the deputy director of the Hualien branch of the LAF and a participant in the arts program since its inception, says that students struggle and weep while painting their pain, but that every time they get angry, the lifeforce so long held in check by their wounds gushes forth like a spring. The process is turbulent, but isn't damaging. It's like a "revolution of dignity" that takes place inside them.

Young women's mural crusade

Those whom Liu was most interested in helping with her variety of art therapy were young women and children who had been forced or voluntarily entered into prostitution. In 1998, she accepted an invitation from ECPAT Taiwan, an organization devoted to ending child prostitution, to hold a class at the Guangci Care Home. "Whether they entered into the business voluntarily or not, these girls have been trampled upon and had their values twisted by the adult world. Their perspectives on events and their physical experiences are very different from those of other girls their age."

Liu decided to "speak their language." Using a huge swath of canvas, she taught her students to create large portraits and murals, allowing them to free themselves from their flinching and the withering of their lifeforce. She encouraged them to develop "iron wills," to reclaim their autonomy, to resist pressure from family and lovers, and to not be constrained by poverty, lack of education, or notions of chastity.

"Those with enough skill work on their own pieces," says Liu. "Those without work with others." Their giant portraits and murals aren't just a declaration of life, but also evidence of the girls joining hands to help one another grow.

These young women established the Young Sex-workers Painting Society in 1999. Liu notes that few arts societies in Taiwan or abroad have young women members, making her young women's work something rare and marvelous in the history of art. In 2001, the society caught the eye of the art world with an exhibition entitled "Youth and Color Dance Together." The young artists made a point of inviting women from shelters in Taichung, Kaohsiung, and Hualien who had lived through similar experiences to attend. When they introduced their works, their recollections of the beatings they had received from their pimps and the injuries inflicted by their patrons brought tears to the eyes of everyone present.

Wuli, a Bunun girl, painted herself as an adorable, helpless child in A Girl in the Reeds. In Drifter in Da'an Forest, she used a sawn-off tree limb to suggest that she was as powerless and alone as a withered branch lying on the ground in an urban forest. Li Ping'er painted all of the internal organs on a T-shirt and titled it Still Naked, With or Without. In addition to helping her break free of the memory of her wounds, the piece makes an ironic comment on our society. "Only a truly proud spirit can calmly and openly face the injuries of the soul," says Liu.

New arts movement

To help students break through their mental blocks and learn to treat painting as a game, Liu also takes them on "field trips" to observe how Taiwanese people live. For example, she has taken elderly students to the Yangmingshan hot springs or Dihua Street to better understand the customs and habits of other seniors, and has brought immigrant brides to dance halls, where they study "man-ology" and learn how Taiwanese men entertain themselves.

Community development efforts have implemented the Civilian Art concept across Taiwan for many years now, attracting the participation of people from all walks of life. These efforts have ensured that the arts are no longer the sole prerogative of a small portion of the middle class, but a tool that everyone can use to paint stories from their own lives. Civilian Art isn't merely a new Taiwanese art movement-it's become a new social movement!

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