Young Vietnamese artisans and designers are bringing traditions alive through mediums including ceramics, lacquer, pearl inlay, silk, and brocade. They create artworks that are neither clichéd nor derivative but developed from a clear vision.
Awakening traditions, achieving sustainable development, protecting the environment, and so forth, are familiar concepts in modern design. How to achieve these goals and fully promote “traditions” remains a topic of particular interest to young designers. With the growth of information and technology, Vietnamese designers have taken a turn for the better, putting new spins on “traditions” and producing surprising and even daring results. Familiar crafts linked to Vietnam’s thousand-year-long history, such as pearl inlay, lacquer, or ceramics, are usually anchored in the preconceptions and ancient techniques of craft villages. But when youngsters employ them today, an effortless, gentle, and emotional transition can be clearly observed through their inventive designs.
Take the lacquer painter Nguyen Xuan Luc from Hanoi, for example. He was born in a craft village and later majored in Fine Art. He is known as a creative artist whose paintings are renowned across Vietnam and surrounding regions. For Nguyen Xuan Luc, artistic creation is like a relaxing stroll in the park. His products demonstrate the delicacy of Chuon Ngo Village’s pearl inlays fused with lacquer and are incorporated into contemporary installations. The folk techniques, traditional materials, and visual art forms complement each other to show how traditional crafts are not limited to producing handicrafts but can be used to create works of art. This fact was highlighted when Nguyen Xuan Luc’s work “Tea corner” was selected as a contender for EDIDA 2022 (Elle Decor International Design Award).
In fashion, positive transformations are also easy to see as sustainable values are promoted in the creative process. Designer Vu Ta Linh from Hanoi told of his creative juices running almost dry when he was trapped within the four walls of his home during the social distancing period. Feeling stuck while rummaging through his unused outfits, Linh found an unexpected way to turn these forgotten items into material for new concoctions. His N.A.M collection came to life by mixing old clothes and accessories, fixed together by quilting, yarn, hand-stitching, patch-working, and crocheting. The pros and cons of the materials are balanced out through artful arrangements, shaped into something brand new and non-conforming with nods to renewal and sustainability. The results retain the original materials’ identity while being well-suited to the modern world.
Even more noteworthy, it seems young artists have been using folk values only as a background in their recent works, not in tired imitations but as inspiration for a new design language and creative works. “Queen Chair” by the young artists at SMA Studio, Hanoi, is one such piece. Its composition adapts the curves, proportions, stories, and decorative details found on imperial thrones into a “queen’s chair” that is well-balanced and has charming color combinations and exquisite elements.
Today’s design ideas are distinct from those in the past. Back then, many concepts could only exist on paper with no mock-ups crafted due to technical limitations. Today’s generation of designers, however, know how to refine their own abilities and combine complex techniques to create usable products and artworks. Creativity and its application know no boundaries when maximizing a concept via modern technology is key.
An example is “Ngu Nghe” by Tom Trandt Minh Dao from Ho Chi Minh City. This technically challenging work of fashion involves a 3D sculpted piece held together with the help of paper tape, finished with decorative embroidery and appliqué. The outcome is something the maker calls “a pinch of absurdity, a spoonful of flamboyance, and a flair of fashion even as you sleep.”
Young designers are keen on materials and crafting methods and have been creating their own challenges and overcoming them. Nguyen Huynh Nam from Dong Nai was bold enough to produce an electric fan using bamboo, aiming to express the beauty of our culture and traditions and raise environmental awareness. Though the feat seemed impossible, meticulous craftsmanship broke all boundaries, giving the design a rustic, familiar, and welcoming appearance. The product presents the craftsman’s masterful skills while telling its own story of Vietnamese culture through the simple and familiar image of bamboo.
The latest news and social issues also present ideas that young designers convey through their works, forming a seamless connection between modern days and the past. Honoring the past with creativity is how today’s designers are helping to preserve their culture and heritage and working to maintain these great values for generations to come.