Sometimes when you ask a stock question in Vietnam you get a stock answer. And one such common answer is to who is responsible for all the graffiti that has sprung up in Saigon over the past year.
I recently asked four Vietnamese living in Saigon the same question. That was their answer.
Yet according to someone in the know, only two of the regular taggers are from overseas. The rest are either locals living in the city or graffiti artists who fly into Saigon for a few days and then fly back out again.
Regardless, as the city’s skyline continues its transformation from steamy French colonial city built for 500,000 to vacuum-packed Asian megatropolis housing upwards of 10 million, there is a general discontent among residents as to how some people have decided to beautify their city. They prefer the plastic surgery, high-rise version of Singapore and Bangkok. Certainly not the more ‘gritty’ version appearing on their streets.
“I don’t know why they do it,” says Huong, a local businesswoman when I questioned her further. “I mean, what’s it all for? It’s ugly.”
Nam, another Saigon born and bred entrepreneur, says, “I’ve seen street art in places like London and Melbourne, but this isn’t art.”
A Space to Create
The problem, says that person in the know, is that some people get a thrill out of tagging.
“It’s illegal,” he says, “and some of the locals get a buzz out of that. Spraying up their street tag and not getting caught.”
He adds: “The problem is that some of the graffiti has started appearing on old colonial buildings. That for me is wrong.”
The solution, he says, would be to dedicate a street or a huge long wall to legal graffiti.
“While the tagging won’t completely stop,” he says, “it will certainly reduce. These artists need a place to express themselves without fear of getting caught.”
For now, however, it seems that blank walls and construction fences in this sprawling city are destined to get a makeover. The question is for how long.
PHOTO BY NICK ROSS