Encouraging signs in Vietnamese contemporary fine arts

Saturday, 2019-02-02 17:39:40
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Ho Chi Minh City-based artist Phan Thao Nguyen, winner of the Han Nefkens Foundation – LOOP Barcelona Video Art Award 2018. (Photo: Thao Nguyen Phan)
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NDO – Efforts made by Vietnamese artists to increase exchanges with foreign colleagues and the bolder individual presence at international events are among the highlights of Vietnamese contemporary fine arts over the past year.

Two Vietnamese painters Nguyen The Son and Nguyen Kim To Lan spent their entire last September introducing Vietnamese contemporary fine arts in Massachusetts, the US, through their exhibition entitled ‘Nhe Tua Long Hong’ Light as Pink Feather). The exhibition, which was named after a Vietnamese saying, describes the artists’ can-do attitude and optimism to life’s struggles, no matter how complicated or dire the situation.

While Son’s art focuses on everyday social and political realities in contemporary Vietnam and how people creatively work around them, Lan’s works explore the moon and humankind’s dream of reaching the moon.

Also last year, multi-disciplinary artist Ly Hoang Ly participated in the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Australia and resilient performance and visual artist Tran Luong attended the Thailand Biennale International Arts Festival.

According to visual artist and independent curator Tran Luong, Vietnamese artists have had a stronger presence at international events than in the past. Some of them, including Dam Nguyen and Phan Thao Nguyen, have continuously been named at acclaimed biennale events around the world.

Ho Chi Minh City – based artist Phan Thao Nguyen, for example, won the Video Art Award 2018 in Barcelona, Spain – an annual award launched by Han Nefkens Foundation and Loop Barcelona to increase contemporary artistic production in the video art field by supporting artists of Asian origin or nationality. Previously, Thao had earned the highest prize of the Signature Art Prize in Singapore for her installation of videos and oil paintings titled Tropical Siesta, which imagines a village populated only by children.

Domestically, an exchange was held at A. Farm art residency in Ho Chi Minh City last June to stimulate creativity among the participating artists, who came from all over Vietnam. The exhibition was curated by Dinh Q. Le and Tran Luong.

Another highlight of last year’s domestic fine arts events was a caricature contest-exhibition themed “Preventing and combating corruption”, which was launched in June by the Department of Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition for both professional and amateur cartoonists.

The winning entries, according to judge Ly Truc Dung, reflected a range of pressing issues and attracted enthusiast public opinions as well as much attention from the news media.

Vi Kien Thanh, Head of the Department of Fine Arts, Photography and Exhibition, said that management agencies have shown full support for the exchange of contemporary fine arts among artists. A number of Vietnamese artists have attended international fine arts exhibitions, which is a good way to introduce Vietnamese fine arts to the world, he said.

Regarding notable fine arts achievements over the past year, he voted for the inauguration of a contemporary art space in the basement of the National Assembly House in November, displaying 15 art works of 15 contemporary artists, headed by Nguyen The Son.

Utilising various media ranging from video arts and lacquer paintings to installations, photography and sculptures, the artworks tell the stories of history and treasured values of heritages.

The art space can be viewed as the second major milestones in the way that contemporary arts can be practiced in a construction which bears symbolic cultural and historical values. The first one was applied at the Hanoi Opera Hose in 2003.

However, according to curator Tran Luong, more supportive policies with longer-term vision are needed to foster Vietnamese contemporary fine arts. “We have seen successes from individuals, however, unless there is sound management, these outcomes can not change the overall appearance of the entire fine arts,” Luong argued.

In terms of investment in culture, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have paid great attention to and made wise investment in their pavilions at the prestigious contemporary visual art exhibition, Venice Biennale.

What we need is more generous investment and renovation in the way fine arts is taught at fine arts universities in order to attract students and make the lectures more interesting to them, Luong suggested.