Vu Duc Hieu won the Phan Chau Trinh Award last month for his contributions to promoting preservation of Muong culture in Viet Nam. Hieu speaks to Culture Vulture about his success and his Muong Cultural Space Museum, the first private museum in the northern province of Hoa Binh and the only museum in Viet Nam devoted to ethnic Muong culture.
The award aims to recognise and encourage individuals who have made contributions to social development as well as helped to improve national knowledge.
Are you surprised to receive the award? What is its significance to you?
I'm really surprised to have received the award. It is a noble one. I think there are many others who deserve the award for their contributions to social development. As I know, each individual needs to get the nod from all members of the scientific council.
I didn't even know I had been short-listed. The council informed me when they decided I was one of the award winners.
This is not only a big encouragement for me but for my family, my friends and Muong people in general as well as people working at the museum. They are working and supporting me a lot. I'm really glad because my work is recognised.
The Phan Chau Trinh Award is the first national-level award to recognise the Muong museum. Previously, it had received a certificate of merit from the Hoa Binh Province authorities.
You said that many others artists merit consideration for the award. Why were you given the award?
The Phan Chau Trinh Award is a sort of "prize" for our efforts in preserving Muong cultural values and promoting art in Viet Nam.
The museum is the first of its kind in Viet Nam devoted to ethnic Muong culture. The ethnic group has been seen as the one that is most closely related to the majority Kinh group. In the Muong museum, we set up a traditional Muong living space reflecting different social classes during the early 20th century. A Muong house was set up with a herb garden, a library, spiritual space and an area displaying handicraft products made by Muong people.
We also have a space to hold community activities with a view to promoting contemporary art development and exchange.
Did you encounter any difficulties in setting up the Muong museum?
The museum was established in 2007. It was the result of a long-term progress including collection of items to display, building work and we had to ask for permission to go ahead with the project. At that time, we faced many difficulties such as an incomplete laws on establishing private museums and we also lacked financial resources.
Many of the once typical Muong characteristics have faded away. I myself can not do something to prevent the disappearance of Muong culture. We need community support to preserve and develop Muong culture.
The Muong group has much cultural heritage that is valuable such as bronze drums, the Mo language and the epic De Dat De Nuoc (Giving Birth to the Earth and the Water) which is about the birth of the Muong people.
What have you done to get more visitors coming to the museum?
We want to set up a live museum with staff from Muong villages. The Muong people are invited to work and live at the museum. They will help visitors at the museum to have a chance to experience Muong culture.
Many community activities have been held at the museum. We hope the community improves their understanding of our cultural values.
A centre for Muong art called the Muongstudio was set up two years ago. It has become a destination for international and Vietnamese artists working together. We hosted the Muong Land I and Muong Land II art events in 2011 and 2012. They drew over 60 artists from 15 countries and territories last year.
The event is a chance for artists and local people to interact and boost mutual understanding. The people know more about art forms and the work of artists. The international artists come back to their homes with stories and images of Muong people in Viet Nam. — VNS