Entering a bamboo curtain workshop in Tan Thong Hoi Commune in Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City, you may be overwhelmed by the bright colors and patterns. Color palettes and brushes are strewn around, as in a fine arts studio. The images painted on bamboo curtains are diverse, from Vietnamese and international landscapes to portraits of prominent figures ordered by clients.
Producing a bamboo curtain involves dozens of complicated steps performed by various talented artisans. Cu Chi abounds in bamboo, the key ingredient of these curtains. First and foremost, straight, round bamboo branches are chosen and cut into short pieces of roughly 6cm long, then mixed and put into a furnace with sand to strip off the shiny outer cover. The bamboo pieces are soaked in water mixed with glue to kill termites, then dried in the sun or in a dryer. The dried bamboo pieces are strung onto zinc wires and sewn into curtains. This step is very important. Artisans must ensure the needlework is even and tight.
In the next step, the artisan puts the curtain into a wooden batten and tightens the zinc wires to ensure that the bamboo beads are evenly spaced. This takes experience. If the zinc wires are too tight the strands become rigid. If they are too loose, the final curtains are untidy.
Once the bamboo curtain is complete, artisans must breathe life into it. Some workers mix the palettes for each painting. The most skillful artisans paint the designs. The workers mix colors without any fixed ratio to produce suitable shades. Their skill results in images that are free of distortions. They don’t sketch the images by brush but paint directly onto the bamboo. While the process appears simple, great skill and experience are needed to produce lively and refined paintings.
Bamboo paintings go global
Nowadays, in the two communes of Tan Thong Hoi and Phuoc Vinh An in Cu Chi District, only seven families specialize in producing bamboo curtains. They work day and night to meet all of their orders. We hope these artists will remain committed to this craft so that their original handicrafts will stay relevant.