Seniors turn muralists in Songpa

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Seniors turn muralists in Songpa

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To the grandparents in this neighborhood of Songpa district, southeastern Seoul, canvas is concrete, and gray is passe.
Unsatisfied with the bland gray walls of an old community building, 45 senior citizens, all over 65 years old, banded together to deck out the seven-by-20 meter (23-by-66 foot) concrete structure with colorful oil paintings depicting mountains and flowers. “Just as we finished the wall painting, I felt like I had become a real painter,” said Kim Sun-ja, 66.
Ms. Kim, one of the 45 senior citizens living within the several blocks of the wall, participated in the town’s mural project since mid-June. Except for two people, none of the participants were professional painters nor did they have any experience in mural painting ― they said they signed up for the project simply because they wanted to beautify their neighborhood.
The project was created and organized by the Songpa Cultural Center. “We wanted to give the elderly a chance to spend their free time doing something substantial,” said a staff member at the center.
The first mural painting team comprised the first 50 people over 65 to sign up. Mostly retired teachers and public officials, the group met every Saturday afternoon and spent three hours practicing painting. The volunteers also included members of the Songpa Artists Association, who helped teach the other members how to paint murals.
They learned basic techniques for sketching and painting and filled the pages of sketchbooks with designs. Even before the actual painting, five members dropped out of the project, saying the workload was too much for them.
On July 31, the center finally started the actual painting, and the 45 adults met every afternoon and started sketching on the wall. The job took three days outdoors in the sweltering summer heat, but the painters didn’t seem to mind.
At last, on Aug. 3, one of the men raised his paint brush in the air and yelled, “We’re done!”
The wall was now a landscape of mountains, flowers and butterflies. There were houses on the plain and trees in various colors. On the other wall, the more advanced painters in the group left an abstract painting of piano keyboards and janggu, traditional drums in an hourglass shape. They explained that the picture symbolizes the relationship between Western and Eastern cultures. Seeing the work had turned out nicely, the group was invited the next day to draw more pictures on the wall of a nearby construction site for an apartment complex.
“We told town offices that our artists are willing to work if any walls need decoration,” said Lee Jae-gap, a cultural center staff member. “We are also thinking of starting a mural painting group for children as well as for families.”

by Lee Min-a
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