A little over ten years ago, a man in Taiwan faced a dilemma. The Taiwanese government threatened to knock down his village to pave way for modern facilities. With a paintbrush in hand and paints to spare, then 86-year old Huang Yung-fu took matters in his own hands. By Bayar Jain
When in it’s prime, the Taichung village of Taiwan had over 1,200 homes, wherein former soldiers sought temporary residency. As people moved to other villages and cities, the now 97-year old Huang Yung-fu was left alone. What was meant to be a temporary solution to house the military and their families eventually became his loving home. However, the Taiwanese government got a whiff of his solitude and threatened to demolish his home to build up a more modern residential complex. They even offered him a hefty price along with alternative accommodation in exchange for his almost half a decade old dwelling. However, Huang Yung-fu didn’t like the idea of leaving his home. Creativity took over and ‘Rainbow Grandpa’ was born.
To prevent demolition, the former soldier, fondly known as ‘Rainbow Grandpa’, began painting. What started off as a lone hand painted bird in his bedroom transcended beyond the four walls of his house and made its way on to the streets. Today, cartoon-like people, abstract animals, and surrealist symbols don the walls of every house in the village. Every night since, he has toiled away under the moonlight painting abstractions. As the country sleeps, Huang crouches on a stool at three in the morning quietly decorating drab cemented walls with kaleidoscopic colours.
In 2010, students from a nearby university stumbled upon this artist’s battle to shoo away governmental bulldozers. Fascinated by his artwork, the students snapped images of the concrete canvas and shared them among their friend circle. A fundraising campaign was also started to help Huang purchase paint, while a petition was launched to protest the settlement’s demolition. Within months, Taichung’s mayor was flooded with emails requesting a stay on the demolition. By October 2010, in order to preserve the remaining 11 buildings, streets and surrounding areas as a public park was passed.
Currently, the village is a tourists’ delight. According to city officials, 2016 alone saw more than 1.2 million making their way to this rainbow village. Huang also greets his guests every now and then and tries to interact with as many tourists as possible. Earlier, after the campaign ended, he would rely on coins left in a small donation box to help facilitate his painting purchases. Now, however, a group of young people help him sell postcards and illustrations of his work. Excess proceeds from his sales are donated to local organisations which help the elderly.
Although his home has been prevented from demolition, Huang still reports for ‘duty’ every morning. He may be 97, but – like his artwork – he is still young at heart. As travellers pose for pictures with the artist, Grandpa Rainbow flashes the military ‘V’ for ‘victory’ sign; a symbol of his own personal victory perhaps.