by Nguyen Khanh Chi
HA NOI — On a visit to the Viet Art Centre, I found myself in a world of household utensils and working instruments from years gone by, but I could not touch or hold any of them.
|Inventive: Sketches of a paddy grinder (left) and a popular loom used by the Mong ethnic people that Phan CamThuong drew based on objects displayed at the Muong Culture Museum.
Sketches and pictures of these sometimes primitive implements were hung on the walls, giving me an insight into the diversity and structural difference of these familiar daily devices.
The exhibits form part of the drawings and photos extracted from a book titled Van Minh Vat Chat Cua Nguoi Viet (Vietnamese Material Civilisation) by the cultural researcher, fine arts critic and painter Phan Cam Thuong.
The book, published last year, took Thuong nearly 20 years to compile.
"I have travelled across the country, learning about daily utensils and working instruments. Each piece has its own story which goes with the reasons it was created and used in everyday life," Thuong said.
"The usefulness of many has meant they have remained unchanged for hundreds, even thousands of years."
Nevertheless, modern life is witnessing the gradual replacement of these rudimentary tools.
Thuong has spent years studying instruments from other cultures to see how meaningful the Vietnamese inventions are. He found that they were designed and adapted to suit the conditions of each individual nation.
"However, while other countries have done well to research and preserve their own cultural heritage, we have failed to do so, and many have been lost forever," the researcher said.
"In Japan, for example, when agricultural production was modernised, Japanese farmers donated their redundant tools to local museums to help preserve them. Our farmers do not have such awareness.
"Better late than never, I thought I should record what we have left and what belongs to our nation. Thus, the book came into being."
Of the 1,500-something sketches and photos used to illustrate the book, Thuong sketched 500 images of the devices while on field trips and visits to museums across the country. He also used material from two Chinese books dating back to the 15th century and the Techniques of the An Nam People by Henri Oger (1909).
Thuong decided to use drawings to illustrate the objects because "for many objects, black and white illustrations tell a story much better than photographs, no matter how high quality they are".
With farming tools such as scythes and grinders, rakes and ploughs, Thuong gives viewers a closer look at how they were designed through detailed drawings from different aspects.
"The book gives us an insight into our national history through objects that we used to exist and develop from the day people first appeared on the land," writer and culture researcher Nguyen Ngoc said.
"All the objects, from the rice bowl and water ladle to the plough, hoe and loom, show us how people created and developed them to make them more suitable for each period of production and existence."
Thuong said he wanted to call this a display rather than an official exhibition, and anyone interested was welcome to come and have a look and share their thoughts and feelings.
"With this display, I would like to make it clear about what I am doing. The drawings are not scientific but they represent my view of human life with everyday objects which still exist or I once had a chance to encounter."
The display is open to the public until January 31 at 42 Yet Kieu Street, Ha Noi. — VNS