The Struggle Is Real
Central to a thriving arts community is funding and freedom of expression, yet this not always the case in Vietnam. More people disagreed that there were opportunities for artists in Vietnam as agreed, at 39% and 33%.
As one respondent said: “There are issues that [artists] cannot freely talk about or debate about on a public platform. With restrictions as such, it hinders real freedom of expression.”
Others see promotion as a problem: “There are a huge number of galleries and spaces. The problem is promotion of the arts.” Another said the art community — outside elite, _ne art — was relatively small and “not accessible to [the] masses”.
According to our respondents, visiting an art gallery or museums is a fairly regular activity with only 28% saying they hadn’t visited one for more than six months. Of the people surveyed, only 7% say they have never visited a gallery or museum in Vietnam.
There were mixed responses about the quality of museums and art galleries in Vietnam, with comments ranging from “sad” and “small, boring” to the “Fine Arts Museum is not good”. On the flip side, one respondent said that the “Vincom Centre for Contemporary Art in Royal City was very good.”
Another respondent pointed a finger at poor promotion as a reason for non- attendance, saying: “They should advertise for different exhibitions better.”
Reading books by Vietnamese authors was not popular among respondents, with almost 40% of respondents saying they hadn’t done so. A further 26% said they hadn’t read one for a long time.
One respondent suggested that access and interest was an issue: “Availability of books in English is lower. Interest among the local community in Vietnamese culture is also quite low.”
Another said that reading didn’t aid cross- cultural communication: “[Poetry] didn’t really help me understand my host nation’s culture any deeper than having a beer with a friendly old guy on a corner would.”
Not Dying, Changing
Opinions about the death of traditional Vietnamese art were almost evenly split with 32% disagreeing and 39% agreeing. A further 20% said they didn’t care.
Some thought Vietnamese art wasn’t dying but evolving, and acknowledged there was difficulty engaging young people in traditional art forms.
Another said there is still hope for Vietnamese art, but it must change because “it will [die] unless it brings itself forward, stops repeating the same old, same old and brings something new to the tradition to entice the younger generation, as well as tourists.”
Self-Expression… Or Vandalism?
There was strong support for graffiti with 51% agreeing and 21% strongly agreeing that it was an art form. There was an understanding that there’s a big difference between tagging and graffiti as art.
One respondent focused on the community development aspect of graffiti, saying that “Projects such as the mural village of Tam Thanh near Hoi An is a great example of how wall art can change a whole community.” Another was struck by one particular piece: “I’ll never forget the graffiti I saw at Nha Trang — the girl looked so alive. I wanted to take the wall home”.
Graffiti, while controversial, was generally supported as art in Vietnam, with suggestions that “walls are the people’s book” and “[It] should be commissioned across cities to bring some public art for everyone to enjoy.”
Our respondents answered five questions about the arts in Vietnam. While our questions were broad, there were recurring themes, namely censorship of artistic expression, poor promotion of the arts and artists, and lack of knowledge about Vietnamese art forms.
1) What are the opportunities for artists?
2) How regularly do you visits art galleries and museums?
3) How often have you read a book by Vietnamese authors?
4) Is traditional Vietnamese art dying?
5) Is graffiti is art?
“Every time I pass an alley with artwork, I always take time [to appreciate it]. Even the small paper pop-out cards always amaze me.”
“Some specific fine arts are disappearing and that’s sad, but I think if anything, artists are excessively focused on traditional imagery.”
“I believe Saigon should follow Hong Kong in making certain areas available for graffiti artists.”
“I don’t really understand ‘art’. I don’t think the lazy, desperate, unemployed people who call themselves artists do either.”
— Just under one half of respondents said there are opportunities for Vietnamese artists to express themselves in Vietnam
— Two thirds of people say they’ve visited an art gallery or museum in Vietnam in the past six months
— Two in five people say that traditional Vietnamese art is dying
— 21% percent said they don’t care if traditional Vietnamese art dies out
— A massive three quarters of the people surveyed say that graffiti is a form of art, although from the comments we received, tags are not viewed as art whereas murals are
Photo by Julie Vola
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