Vietnam: New Winds

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Vietnam

“Giai Phong”, liberation: April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the father of the unified homeland, while the last Americans and the Vietnamese still loyal to the government of the South fled in helicopters from the roof of the US Embassy. The sense of a profound reversal of history does not escape those who view these dramatic images today: the US lost the war then, but more than forty years later it is hard to deny that in the new Vietnam, capitalism is increasingly victorious, under the formal veneer of a communism nostalgic for the good old days. It is in this breeding ground, in this country now ranked among the so-called Asian dragons, that Imago Mundi has moved to record the vitality of contemporary art through nearly 150 works in the small 10x12 cm format. 

Tran Van Thuoc - Untitled (2015)

“Vietnamese visual art, as evidenced by the works in the collection – comments Luciano Benetton, the creator of Imago Mundi - does not forget the beauty and inspiration of traditional techniques such as lacquer, wood, ceramic, bamboo and handmade paper, evoking spirituality and values of cultural and popular heritage. Equally, it evokes and references the experience of the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts d’Indochine, created in Hanoi in 1925 by the French; the contact point between European culture and Asian tradition. But it also offers, through the skilled filter of the artists, a new and modernist perspective, able to encourage renewal, the process of growth of the country.”

The Anh Le - Untitled (2015)

Tran Anh Phi - Untitled (2015)

Nguyen Viet Thang - Cat (2015)

Tran The Vinh - Untitled (2015)

Recent polls have tested the pulse of the 90 million inhabitants of a country that stretches over 2,000 kilometers from the border with China to the Ca Mau peninsula, home to the large deltas of the Red and Mekong rivers. The results are surprising. 95 percent of the Vietnamese have confidence in the mechanisms of capitalism, exceeding all other countries, even the Americans. The United States is no longer the enemy: according to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of respondents were first and foremost hostile towards the Chinese, with whom, moreover, a brief but bloody border war was fought in 1979. In the last few years GDP per capita in Vietnam has increased from about $400 to almost $2000 and exports have reached record levels, starting with those to the US (more than 20 percent among the countries of South East Asia). And, an irony of history, the theaters of the war with the Americans (the Mekong and Red Rivers), have become important manufacturing centers.

Nguyen Dinh Long - On Mekong River (2015)

Nguyen Ngoc Quan - Untitled (2015)

“But Vietnam – Luciano Benetton adds - is also a land of fascinating splendor, marked by 4,000 years of history and landscapes of extraordinary beauty, where the protagonist is the water of the great rivers, the rice fields and the sea. In Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, around two thousand limestone islands rise from the crystal green waters, suspended between legend and reality. It is said that while the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent dragons to help them: hence the name Ha Long, meaning ‘where the dragon descends into the sea.”

Le Hai Trieu - Untitled (2015)

Bui Duy Khanh - Untitled (2015)

Nguyen Manh Hung - Landscape (2015)

“Vietnam – observes the collection’s curator, Neeraj Ajmani - is a revelation. I must say that the Vietnamese are exceptional people. Their vibrant disposition betrays no sign of being bogged down by a history that was replete with repeated oppression from external forces. Vietnam has bounced back, and the world is taking note of it! Vietnamese art is the melting pot of age-old Eastern traditions and styles and Western techniques. This fusion was a result of the education and training imparted by the many French Art Institutions. The application of French techniques to traditional media like silk, lacquer etc. resulted in the creation of a very interesting blend of Eastern and Western Elements.”

Hoang Xuan Huong - Sound Music Spring (2015)

Pham An Hai - Untitled (2015)

Pham Anh Tuan - Waiting (2015)

In particular, the Imago Mundi Vietnam collection – notes Ajmani – “contains works created in the mediums of oil, acrylic, lacquer, wood, ceramic, lithography, woodcut, plaster of Paris, and bamboo! ‘Trucchigraphy’ is the medium characterized by the use of derivatives of the bamboo plant. Equally interesting is the use of media such as silk, wood and ‘Do paper’, which is a completely natural handmade paper. The use of such diverse media adds to the sensitivity of Vietnamese art and enhances its uniqueness.”

Nguyen Hong Phuong - Untitled (2015)

Dao Mai Trang, a Vietnamese journalist, highlights a specific aspect of this uniqueness. During the war – he recalls – “Many artists who became soldiers and went to the front lines of war would bring along pens, pieces of paper or cardboard so that they could continue their work as artists whenever they had a chance. They drew as if they and their central figures – their fellow comrade soldiers – were trying to live some last moments of their lives to the fullest. And the thousands of wartime paintings and sketches have now become priceless treasures of Vietnamese modern art for their special marks in history.”

Pham Binh Chuong - Old Street Corner (2015)

With this precious heritage, today the Vietnamese artists – in the words of Luciano Benetton – “are able to offer their vision of the world. With the knowledge that making art signifies looking deep within oneself, beyond the image offered by today’s many mirrors of vanity.”

Hoang Phuc Quy - Untitled (2015)

Credits: Story

Project management
Neeraj Ajmani

Valentina Granzotto
Koshika Mehrotra

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Neeraj Ajmani
Dao Mai Trang

Translation and editing
Emma Cole
Chiara Galasso
Pietro Valdatta

Art direction
Namyoung An

Marco Zanin

Marco Pavan

Special Thanks to
Sanjeev Mohanty

Tran Quoc Truong - Crease 04

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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