Chii Nguyen

Young artists are adding creative perspectives to traditional arts

In recent years, many young artists have worked to raise public interest in traditional arts so as to preserve and promote cultural values. Youngsters all over the country have appreciated many of these ventures.

Under the tutelage of lecturer and curator Nguyen The Son, a group of students studying lacquer and silk arts at the University of Fine Arts of Vietnam organized a project titled “From tradition to tradition” that allowed them to learn from Le Dinh Nghien, the last living Hang Trong folk painter. Working at Nam Huong Shrine in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District, the young artists were able to experiment with different materials and learn basic yet essential techniques of this traditional painting genre. 

A student in the "From tradition to tradition" project

The project concluded with a display of works inspired by familiar Hang Trong painting motifs, such as “Five tiger generals”, “Divine lady”, and “Beautiful damsel”. While preserving the brush strokes and color schemes of the originals, these experimental works were achieved using silk, lacquer, and even inkjet printed on formex – typically used for advertising – to create a mix between folk painting and relief sculpture.

Looking at traditional arts adapted by creative young artists, it would be unfair not to mention the non-profit “Vẽ về Hát Bội” (Portraying Hat Boi) project initiated by illustrator Huynh Kim Lien. Barely in their twenties, the project’s members decided to trace the roots of Hat Boi, a form of classical opera they’d previously had no or little interest in. In the beginning, the participating artists only wished to “stoke a little fire” for Hat Boi in the hearts of young Hanoians, bringing about a fresh and engaging perspective on this traditional art. However, the results achieved by this humble group of 43 artists and around 100 helpers in just two months were not small at all. A 10-day exhibition was held at the Théatre de ChoLon in Ho Chi Minh City, along with workshops. Finally, they published a 136-page book titled “Vẽ về Hát Bội”, which summarizes the history and essence of Hat Boi and features over 40 paintings displayed in the exhibition.

"Hanoi by night" by Tran Phat took the Audience Award in the "Hanoi is..." contest

Recently, the public had another chance to witness a display of passion and love for Hanoi’s heritages through the “Ha Noi is…” illustration contest hosted by the UN-Habitat (under UNESCO) and the Vietnam Local Artist Group (VLAG). Just one month after submissions opened, over 250 Vietnamese and foreign artists had sent in works of various forms, including digital art, silk, collage, oil painting, and lacquer.

The contest allowed young artists to define Hanoi in their own creative ways imbued with personal emotions and memories. Gazing at the artworks, one can easily sense the young artists’ love for Hanoi’s heritages, which permeate all aspects of life, from architectural relics to cultural practices and everyday activities in the streets that “scream Hanoi”. In his work “Ha Noi rong” (Ha Noi’s Street Vending), first-prize winner Dang Thai Tuan portrayed Hanoi as two baskets full of heritages lugged by a female robot street vendor using Long Bien Bridge as her shoulder pole.

"Head in the clouds" by Ha Manh Hieu placed second in the "Hanoi is..." contest

Meanwhile, the work that came second and got the most audience votes was “Hanoi by Night”, which portrayed Hanoi in lidless boxes. This unique interpretation came from artist Tran Phat, who has yet to visit the capital but fell in love with Hanoi through pictures on a screen. The second prize went to “Head in the clouds” by Ha Manh Hieu, depicting old residential quarters full of antique charm.

Contrary to popular notions, young people are not indifferent to traditional art so long as they can understand and identify with it. In fact, they want to connect with, inherit, and promote the values left by their ancestors. These values manifest not only in the themes and materials but also in the shared artistic spirit that is passed down from generation to generation, giving them pride and inspiration. These young artists will live up to this spirit and continue to enrich it in their contemporary lives.