Text: Tran Tan Vinh
Photos: Tran Tan Vinh and the Ho Chi Minh City Historical Museum, the Archaeology Center and the Southern Institute of Social Sciences
Many cultures have celebrated the life-sustaining power of female breasts through their fine arts
Worldwide, various cultures honor female breasts as symbols of fertility and motherly devotion. From prehistoric times until today, countless artists have paid tribute to the female bosom. In Vietnam, figures of large-breasted women were common throughout the Dong Son and Sa Huynh cultures. Bronze figurines on blade hafts and tools feature large-chested women. Archeologists have found several terracotta pots studded with big breasts and nipples dating from the Sa Huynh culture.
In 1934, French archeologists from the Institute of Ancient Far East Studies excavated a Sa Huynh pot decorated with large-breasted flowers. This pot is now on display at the Vietnam National Museum of History. At the archeological site of Hoa Diem in Cam Ranh, Khanh Hoa, archeologists unearthed a pot lid in the shape of a nipple. While the Sa Huynh ceramic pot featured six pairs of small nipples, the pot from Hoa Diem had eight bigger nipples arranged in clusters.
The Oc Eo Culture also produced unique breast-themed relics, notably a pair of golden nipple-shaped earrings that featured many breasts, including ones with big nipples. This artifact is now stored in the Ho Chi Minh City Historical Museum.
The Champa Culture produced many images of women, including goddesses and female dancers. Statues of Apsara dancers are portrayed with round bosoms, slender waists and strong muscular thighs. Some fine reliefs of Apsara dancers carved on Tra Kieu altars are on display in the Danang Cham Sculpture Museum. These dancing girls have full bosoms and appear soft, neat and graceful. The Danang Cham Sculpture Museum also displays various linga-yoni statues from My Son Sanctuary, Chien Dan (Quang Nam) and Duong Long (Binh Dinh). The yoni figurines are surrounded by numerous smooth and silken nipples. Bronze Guanyin Tara statues from the Dong Duong Buddhist Sanctuary (Quang Nam) now on display at the Danang Museum, a Devi goddess statue discovered in Huong Que Village (Quang Nam), and stone statues of Champa queens all feature bare breasts but look ethereal.
In a region characterized by strong matriarchy, the graphic arts of ethnic minority peoples in Vietnam’s Central Highlands have long honored women. Wooden statues of the Central Highlands reflect many themes relating to women. We see symbols of reproduction and proliferation: pregnant women, breastfeeding women and figurines of breasts. The staircases of Ehde longhouses are carved with two female breasts, stars or a new moon. The wooden sculptures of Co Tu people include many statues depicting women with bare breasts and breastfeeding mothers. Artworks depicting female breasts remind us of nature’s vitality, matriarchal power and motherhood as the source of life.