Story: Dr.Emma Duester
Photos: Phan Dan, SEN HERITAGE

Faculty members at RMIT University, Dr. Emma Duester and Ms. Michal Teague, interviewed 50 cultural professionals in Hanoi to discover how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the use of digital technologies in the arts and cultural sector in Vietnam’s capital.
A National Treasure in Vietnam's National Museum of History
Digitization has become a key aspect of work for cultural professionals in Hanoi’s arts and cultural sector. It has been occurring more systematically and more broadly across the sector over the past five years, including at state institutions, private galleries, non-profit art centers, and independent artists. State institutions are undertaking digitization projects that focus on preserving folk arts, crafts, and intangible cultural heritage, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism (MoCST). These projects include photographing, scanning, and making digital archives of art collections to preserve cultural heritage and ensure the safety of artworks. For example, the Vietnam Institute of Culture and Art Studies (VICAS) is working on a project called IchLinks, which is an online platform for intangible cultural heritage across the Asia-Pacific region. There has been a transition towards making content more engaging for audiences and to making more content publicly accessible online during the Covid-19 Pandemic, when work was solely online and focused on public digital display. 

Key developments in digitization and digital display during the past two years were initiated by independent, non-governmental art organizations, whose digitization projects are sponsored by UNESCO, the Goethe Institute, the British Council, and the Danish Embassy. Manzi Art Space is one example of an independent art space that is innovative in displaying its digitized art collections, as they are currently experimenting with 3D scanning, virtual reality, and augmented reality in a three-year project called ‘Into Thin Air.’

Harnessing opportunities for digitization 

Le Nhung from the Vietnamese Women’s Museum felt that digitization is a positive development” for the preservation, safety, and sustainability of culture and for the greater availability of and easy access to resources.

A visitor experiences VR3D virtual reality

Nguyen Thi Bich Van, Director of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, reported thatpositive reasons for a digital archive and online library include the safety of items and resources for educators and curators.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic, and especially the lockdown in Hanoi (March-April 2020), encouraged many cultural professionals to focus anew on their digitization projects and digital work practices. “The Vietnamese Women’s Museum had to close down and stop welcoming visitors temporarily. However, closing down does not mean a shutdown,” explained Le Nhung. She went on to say that staff “found ways to bring the museum to the public at home” by developing content on online platforms. “The organization of online exhibitions is also the first step to use digital technology to introduce the display content more creatively, thereby, opening up more opportunities for the application of digital technology in many other activities in the future,” added Le Nhung.

Suzanne Lecht from Art Vietnam Gallery also described how lockdown afforded them time for online projects, saying: We decided to focus on all those projects that always seem to get set aside when we are receiving the public regularly.”

Hang Duong from Hanoi Studio Gallery also digitized more artworks and other content (text, video, event posters). “We developed and focused more on digital content, more updated information and images of artworks,” he said.

Changing audiences’ perception of Vietnamese Art

Stella from Friends of Vietnam Heritage wants to digitize art and culture in order to show the contemporary life and culture in Hanoi to both local and international audiences. “We want to provide and create a digital record or diary of contemporary Hanoi,” she revealed.

This is possible because, as Do Son from PI Auction House said: “On digital platforms, we are showing not just digital art but digital culture.” People can get a sense of Vietnam’s contemporary culture through art shared online.

By digitizing and publishing art online, cultural professionals are helping to change and develop Vietnam’s position internationally and to re-orientate the online representations of Vietnamese art and culture. “With the content to display online, we want to show the rich variety of styles and artists that show the enormous diversity of the arts in Vietnam,” explained Suzanne Lecht.  

Ha Dao, co-founder of Matca Space of Photography, said: “For a couple of years I have been receiving emails and interviews – our website is the only place to find photography in Vietnam. So we have it as open so everyone can access it.” With this initiative, he wants to be at the forefront of the transition toward making more cultural content publicly accessible. Ha Dao went on to say that he hoped to show that there is more to Vietnam and Vietnamese photography than ao dai and Ha Long Bay. We don’t have any specific agenda other than to showcase the diversity [in Vietnamese photography] that has always existed”

On display at the Flamingo Art Museum

Digital developments in Vietnam 

The Vietnamese government has now positioned the cultural industries as a major sector for economic development and international cooperation, in order to transform the nation’s image from ‘made in Vietnam’ to ‘designed, innovated, and created in Vietnam’ (UNESCO, 2019).

The digitization of art and culture in Vietnam will help to ensure the sustainable preservation of cultural heritage. More importantly, with more digital resources, contemporary Vietnamese art and culture can be promoted locally and internationally, helping to develop international connections and collaboration.