by Vuong Bach Lien
HA NOI — Nguyen Thi Hoa is not excited when her friends propose going to the museum with them. A bank employee, she has hardly ever visited museums in the city.
|Play to learn: The Champa Museum in Da Nang (above) and the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnnology often attract visitors with their diverse activities. – File Photos
"It's boring to visit a museum. Young people like me are more interested in new things such as fashion, the cinema and books," says Hoa.
Hoa is not an exception however. Many other young people in Viet Nam are not very interested in visiting museums and historical vestiges. They are quite indifferent to studying the culture and history of the country through museum visits. Locally, museums often attract only the aged and tourists.
"This attitude is due to the present curriculum in Viet Nam's schools," explains Nguyen Thanh Ngoc, an employee at a cultural centre in HCM City.
"At school, history and geography are always considered secondary while maths, literature, chemistry and physics are the subjects students have to spend the majority of their time on. Attending school, we were never encouraged to spend much time studying history," Ngoc adds.
At many museums and historical vestiges in Viet Nam, many young people are seen taking photos for each other instead of paying attention to the significance of their surroundings.
"One time, I visited the underground tunnels used by liberation fighters in HCM City's suburban district of Cu Chi. A group of Vietnamese students, instead of paying attention to what the tourist guide was saying, was busy chatting with each other. Last year, when I visited the My Son Sanctuary in Quang Nam Province, I saw two contrary scenes. Vietnamese youth were casting only cursory glances at the site before gathering together for a drink and meals. Meanwhile, a group of South Korean students were busy studying and measuring the details of the designs and the size of the pillars of this world-recognised heritage site," recalls an old man.
"It's sad to see such indifference among young people today," he sighs.
In Viet Nam, schools often organise trips to museums, but they seem to have little impact.
"I have only visited a museum in Viet Nam once. It was when my school asked me to go. Only when I moved abroad for a while did I come to understand how important museums are. Visiting museums seemed a very normal habit of Western people since a very early age," says Ngoc Oanh, who works in a translation company in HCM City.
Sharing the fate of history museums, fine arts museums in Viet Nam seldom welcome many domestic visitors, some of whom blame a lack of basic art knowledge.
"I only had some drawing lessons at primary school, hardly enough for me to understand art," says Tran Mai Lan, a student at the Nguyen Hue high school in Ha Dong District, Ha Noi.
Contemporary art seems to be even more removed from the general public.
"I don't understand anything when I look at a contemporary painting. I don't know what it is about and I don't know if it is a good painting. I find myself unqualified to enjoy art museums," Lan adds.
HCM City-based fine arts critic Huynh Boi Tran has found it hard to build a community with an appreciation of art. "Why some Vietnamese businessmen love driving a car worth several billions of dong and buy expensive branded goods, few are ready to spend some million dongs on a beautiful painting. How many paintings do you think artists are able to sell to Vietnamese people?" he comments.
"I think an education in art has to be made compulsory for children. Because art popularisation can certainly contribute to the development of a country," said art critic-painter Phan Cam Thuong.
To explain their reluctance to visit museums, young people say that some museums do not have enough interesting activities.
Viet Nam is known for several museums that attract many tourists. In Ha Noi, the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology impresses visitors with its interesting exhibitions and diverse activities based on the country's diverse ethnicity. It attracted 400, 000 visitors last year, of which 250,000 were Vietnamese. In HCM City, the War Remnants Museum, which possesses a comprehensive collection of machinery, weapons, photos, and documentation on Viet Nam's wars with both the French and Americans, welcomed 6 million visitors over the last 20 years.
However, the country is also home to other museums, reproached for being monotone, for the unprofessionalism of curators, for the lack of information about installations and the lack of interesting and diverse activities. In Viet Nam, cultural authorities have poured vast amounts of money into museums, but with little result.
"To attract visitors to museums, we should make them livelier," says ethnologist Nguyen Van Huy, former director of the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology.
"To make military museums more attractive, apart from displaying objects and information related to the Generals, why don't we teach visitors more about the lives of soldiers by inviting them to the museum to share their experiences first hand?" he says.
"And for museums specialising in geology, why don't we display videos that show the work of geologists or invite them to the museum to tell stories?" "Museums will exist forever. However, we should know how to exploit them to attract visitors of all ages," Huy adds. — VNS