Review: ‘The Barefoot Artist’ poignant look at transformative artist Lily Yeh


“Dreaming doesn’t cost anything,” contends Lily Yeh, the passionate subject of “The Barefoot Artist,” a poignant documentary about the transformative power of art.

The strikingly photographed film, co-directed by Glenn Holsten and Yeh’s son, Daniel Traub, traces the life journey taken by a woman who combines art with social activism.

Born in China during the Second World War, Yeh came to the United States in the early 1960s to study fine art. But the exploding Pop-art movement didn’t exactly jibe with her focus on traditional Chinese landscape paintings.


After struggling to fit in, Yeh eventually found her place creating permanent art installations in parts of the world eviscerated by war and poverty.

Her mission has taken her from crumbling, abandoned lots in northern Philadelphia to a genocide survivors’ village in Rwanda to a sprawling garbage dump in Kenya, but a far more personal trek proved the most challenging.

Yeh discovered that her late father had had another family before he married her mother. Ridden with guilt, Yeh traveled to Beijing to make amends on his behalf with her neglected half siblings.

Just as with her life’s work, Yeh’s healing trip back to her ancestral home was all about finding a way to coax vibrance out of the darkness.


“The Barefoot Artist”

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.