Modern Vietnamese sculpture is winning favour among the countrys artistic community.

By Thuy Duong on January 08,2018 09:19 AM


The ‘Khai huyen’ ,or Revelation, sculpture by Bui Hai Son on display at Flamingo Dai Lai Resort

The sculpture side of modern Vietnamese art was not fully developed until the 1990s, according to painter and art critic Nguyen Quan, while a radiant sculptural tradition has thrived for 2,000 years, with a Cham component, techniques applied to temples and communal houses in the north, and the techniques of the central highlands and Khmer art in the south. Modern sculptural art, he added, seemed to have hibernated through 90% of the 20th century.

Since 1990, Vietnamese fine art has been at the peak of innovation and pioneering. Artists have become ‘rich’, not only literally but also figuratively. They have been allowed to draw what they love and even warmly promoted foreign elements. Vietnam was like a house with closed doors for so long, but is now open for neighbours to visit. Artistic trends are being studied by artists and cherished for a long time so they may express themselves. Abstraction, Surrealism, and Expressionism were born in the early 20th century in the West but only broke out in the 1940s and 50s. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that it could be publicised and disseminated in Vietnam. At that time, art was like the lush, fertile land, where every seed artists sowed was harvested.

In the last five years, fine art audiences have witnessed a new transformation in Vietnamese sculpture, with renowned sculptors such as Bui Hai Son, Thai Nhat Minh and Pham Dinh Tien. Artworks with the artist’s personality have been appreciated and displayed in many domestic and international exhibitions. As Nguyen Quan said, modern sculpture wants to interact closely with the world, particularly the city space. Its purpose is to be admired and enjoyed but also to interact with and change society. There are aspirations and cravings in today’s artists, at a time when urbanisation is sweeping through Vietnam’s larger cities. It seems that the works of Bui Hai Son and Pham Dinh Tien have done that, with sculptors being welcomed in new and modern art spaces such as the Contemporary Art Center in Hanoi (VCCA) and Flamingo’s exhibition space in Dai Lai, northern Vinh Phuc province.

Joyful songs of growth

Born in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, Bui Hai Son graduated from the HCMC University of Fine Arts in 1987 and is now a lecturer at the HCMC University of Architecture. His works have been realised on a large scale and inspired many, infused with symbolic references that serve as highly poetic odes to life in all its unboundedness and endless cycles. An image that has recurred throughout his almost 30-year career is that of the rice kernel. The ‘Khai huyen’, or Revelation, sculpture is divided into two blocks. A suspended block is a giant rice kernel made from wood and copper hanging from the ceiling, one of its heads suspended in the sky while the other is towards the land where a stone block is placed. The total weight of the sculpture is 4 tons.

He revealed that the image of rice grains symbolises the living space in his native region. The source of inspiration for his works comes from the forms and structures of living sources, the embodiment of aspirations for general harmony between humans and nature.

In the work ‘Nguon’, or ‘Originarium’, another giant kernel hangs horizontally, with its two heads suspended in the air, floating above a verdant pasture. With its shape evoking the tale of Noah’s Ark, the sculpture takes on an added mythical layer, offering a graceful meditation on the wonders of the mundane.

The sculptor has devoted much of his work to examining the richness of the Mekong Delta region. With the rice seed as his inspiration, his work is constructed from wood and various metals that reflect the growing progress of a seed over ten years, which in turn is a way of observing the maturity of the self. As he has said, simplifying the language of form conveys his ‘inner journey toward the supreme’.

Human loneliness

In recent years, the trend towards sculpture installations with paintings and with visual art has been applauded by the public. One young artist, Thai Nhat Minh, deserves particular mention, adopting a serious attitude towards his work. Each sculpture contains individual emotions from time to time. Minh’s birds are smooth, heavy, and very minimalist, always giving admirers the feeling of loneliness and self-esteem. Some art critics believe his sculptures, like those of tiny birds, must have some ‘meaning’, ‘social mission’, or ‘showcase the desire of human beings to overcome obstacles or difficulties’. They are wrong. His work is as you see it, with no hidden meaning to be found.

A sculpture from ‘Reproduction Season’ by Thai Nhat Minh
A sculpture from ‘Reproduction Season’ by Thai Nhat Minh

In fact, these birds express the sadness and loneliness from when Minh just graduated from the School of Fine Arts and was still unable to find his own direction. He felt lost and disoriented, and then quietly locked himself in a workshop and made small and big lonely birds. The shape of the bird is stretched around, with little detail due to the influence of the ceramic products such as vases, dishes, and cups that Minh produced before entering the School of Fine Arts.

Later on, when he had found his own way to balance and stabilise his life, a stream of ideas constantly rolled in but sometimes he’s been unable to stay with them. He always composes his sculptures in series. After the series ‘The Lonely Birds’ in 2013, ‘Reproduction Season’ was his second, in which animals such as dogs and cats, though domesticated by humans, suddenly turn out to be sensual and totally wild, like when the reproduction season arrives. Minh’s sculptures are mostly in mini or medium sizes, as making a giant sculpture would take him too much time while ideas keep arriving in his mind. Minh launched a sculpture series entitled ‘The warriors and the warrior’s wives’ in 2016, about the sadness of war and the torment of the soldiers and their wives at home, but not the battlefields or scenes of fighting or blood flowing.

Instinct avoidance

Pham Dinh Tien is probably one of the youngest representatives of contemporary Vietnamese sculpture. Born in 1988, he has been mentioned in the media for his large sculptures with impressive shapes being exhibited both at home and abroad.

Tien was born in Lam Dong province in the central highlands. He graduated in sculpture at the HCMC University of Fine Arts in 2012, where he currently works as a lecturer. He has won awards at the HCMC Biennale Show for Young Artists and the DOGMA Prize for Self-Portraiture, and been featured at annual exhibitions organised by the HCMC Fine Arts Association. His works have also been exhibited at Damien By Mischelle as well as various national sculpture exhibitions. Tien is also an alumnus of San Art Laboratory.

The ‘Cuon’, or Roll, sculpture by Pham Dinh Tien
The ‘Cuon’, or Roll, sculpture by Pham Dinh Tien

Sometimes, through the strangest of visions, the most outlandish, disfigured imagery, can the essence of what it means to be human be revealed? Such is the case with Tien’s emotionally resonant sculptures. One of his recent remarkable sculptures is ‘Cuon’, or Roll; a work made from composite materials. A human body convulses, turns into a circular shape in defence against external hostilities, while the torso and dismembered legs convey a sombre sense of resignation, a loss of control. It is not all dark and melancholic, however, as such resignation, through other works, is sometimes rendered into an almost Zen-like detachment, a state of being in resolute acceptance with the world. 

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