Young artist can't stop playing with dolls
by Minh Thu
|Feet of clay: Tran Thu Hang lovingly fashions a doll from plaster. — VNS Photo|
|Child's play: Her artworks mostly depict the world of children. Each doll has its own story to tell. — VNS Photos Truong Vi|
Tran Thu Hang fusses over tiny materials all day long in her room, which is covered in different types of cloth. This young, attractive woman is one of few Vietnamese artists experimenting with dolls.
She creates colourful and animated dolls, with each have its own history. Hang says she wants to give the dolls a voice and create a space where people can hear their stories.
Dolls have long appeared in the art world but are new to the art scene in Viet Nam, where they are created and installed in settings, with unique stories.
Hang began making dolls during her second year as a student at the Ha Noi College of Fine Arts.
In her younger days, she had a passion for dolls, especially hina dolls – traditional Japanese toys that are well respected by families.
"Each hina doll is masterfully crafted with beautiful accessories," Hang says, "I spent so long trying to understand them and paint hina dolls in my own way."
Since deciding to become an artist, Hang has always harboured dreams of making dolls. In 2006 when attending an exhibition of hina dolls, she decided to make her own.
She says at the beginning, everything was difficult; she started off making a doll's chair and after several weeks of chiselling and polishing, the tiny wooden chair was completed.
This first foray into the doll-making world brought her immense joy and sent her on an extensive internet searchfor more information about fabricating these delicate toys.
She came to learn that many doll artists in the world select different materials for their artwork. She decided to make wooden dolls because, "the grain of wood is wonderful – very simple and rustic, but miraculous".
Her dolls are a window into the splendour of childhood, where memories and the freedom of children are recalled.
When asked why she only chooses to focus on children, she smiles, saying, "the subject of children is endless – their purity and innocence are the main drivers behind my work."
Her dolls are tiny and intricate, exuding a lively spirit and weaving stories through their appearance, faces and accessories. Her work A Big Dream describes two children sharing a giant lolly they can eat forever. Another work, Danger, shows a little girl with a comb and scissors trying to cut her own hair, something all children try at some stage.
In the work Nearly 100 Fleas, Hang tells of her own childhood memories.
"All I needed when I was a child was my mum, the dog and drawing. Delousing dogs used to be my daily job," she says.
"The two of us worked very diligently for hours a day," Hang says. "While I was industriously picking fleas and dirt, my dog had to work hard putting up with me."
These recollections of childhood are woven seamlessly through her lively artwork.
Hang often starts by drawing basic details on a piece of wood before she patiently carves and polishes the doll, and adding hair, eyelashes and designing clothing and accessories.
Her room is filled with hammers, knives, saws, stones and hundreds of other tools.
"It takes a long time from forming ideas and looking for materials to make each doll," she says.
Hang considers herself a scrap dealer, collecting and re-using many objects which have been, or are about to be, thrown away. The art takes hard work, patience, dexterity and precise attention to detail, she says.
Painter and Ha Noi College of Fine Arts lecturer Trang Thanh Hien says Hang's work and drive are amazing to behold.
"Hang's working process and her passion for the art is clearly visible in the meticulous detail and care she puts into the dolls' clothes and accessories," Hien says.
"The way she creates live scenes in a miniature world is an insight into her creative powers and her artistic instinct," Hien adds.
Artistic dolls are often confused with sculpture, but for Hang, this is a way of combining fine arts and sculpture in general.
"Making dolls is an art in which the artists use images of dolls to express their creativity and explore the concept of art and to depict life in their own way," Hien explains.
"These dolls, despite the name, are therefore not made for children, but as independent works with a combination of such visual arts as sculpture, handicrafts and applied art," Hien says.
Until now Hang hasn't sold any dolls in her collection, saying they are her spiritual children and have taken much time and effort to complete.
To earn money to pursue her passion for doll art, she receives orders to make dolls from families wanting to preserve their baby's image. Dolls made from silicon imitating babies in different gestures can look strikingly realistic.
The idea of making this kind of doll came when her sister's daughter was three months old. Hang made a doll as a minimised image of her niece and the lively doll impressed people so much that Hang decided to make silicon dolls with different gestures and emotions, imitating children.
"When parents order these dolls of their children, I ask them to play with their children, take photos and sketch them to remember their favourite gestures and expressions," Hang says.
Beside these silicon dolls, Hang also produces dolls inspired by characters in Vietnamese fairy tales and legends. Each doll is attached to a story translated into English to sell to tourists, allowing visitors to Viet Nam the chance to bring creative, unique souvenirs home and also understand Vietnamese stories, Hang says.
"I intend to release these dolls next year, and they will be introduced at airports and souvenir shops," she adds.
Apart from making dolls, she is also an illustrator of comics and draws pictures for children. When asked about her future plans for making dolls, she says she wants to hold exhibitions of art dolls at foreign cultural centres to advertise the art.
Hang has spent endless hours making her cherished dolls and has overcome numerous obstacles, often wounding her arms and legs with sawing machines, knives and hot glue, but her passion and talent have kept her going.
She is determined to pursue the art not only for her own passion but also to popularise these artistic dolls throughout Viet Nam.
Everyday, Hang can be found rustling through mounds of material to find the perfect pattern to adorn her lively dolls. Each one has its own story and world, which audiences are always interested in exploring.
Her first exhibition of art dolls is now opening at 27 Quang Trung Street, Ha Noi until October 7. — VNS