The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism recently issued a decision to ban carvings of guard animals from public places, including pagodas and temples, if they do not conform to Vietnamese culture.
The carvings include lions and kylins with sharp fangs and sharp claws instead of the softer, rounder armaments of the Vietnamese creatures. Culture Vulture talks with Tran Thanh Tung, director of the Circle Group, a cultural business group that has researched sacred objects throughout Viet Nam's history - and has also helped designed statues for veneration.
In 2012, your group introduced a set of four objects inspired by decorative patterns in shapes of dragons and phoenixes appearing in the Ly dynasty (1009-1225) architecture. The set, made to decorate houses, offices and religious buildings, was spoken of highly by historians and fine-arts experts. Has it met the demands of the commercial market?
You are talking about our set of carvings titled Thong Diep Ngan Nam (One-Thousand-Year Message), which includes four designs based on images of the two sacred animals unearthed at the relic site of the Thang Long Citadel in downtown Ha Noi.
The set of designs has been made in gold, silver, copper, ceramic and porcelain. The designs have been turned into jewellery or high sculptures to order.
We sell to politicians, businessmen, international organisations, Vietnam Airlines, and banks. Our products have appeared in 40 countries throughout the world.
What do you think about the trend for Vietnamese to use traditional designs modified by foreign influences to decorate their houses or donate to pagodas and temples? What do you think about the culture ministry's recent decision of removing all such exotic objects from public places, including pagodas and temples?
There are many companies trying to introduce traditional Vietnamese features in their products, but only few of them have been successful. Most of them export their goods.
When people become more affluent, they develop a penchant for decorating their houses, offices and worshiping places. It's the responsibility of the culture ministry to raise people's awareness in choosing the right objects.
For example, many people want a statue of Saint Tran (General Tran Hung Dao), who commanded the Dai Viet armies that repelled three major Mongol invasions in the 13th century. However, the statues available in the market are not well-made and are over-priced.
Concerning the culture ministry's decision, I wonder what we should do with all the culturally improper items on public display.
Your business group recently introduced designs for statues of four most famous figures in Viet Nam's history, namely General Ly Thuong Kiet (1019-1105), Tran Hung Dao (1228-1300), King Quang Trung (1753-92) and General Vo Nguyen Giap (1911-2013).
How did you choose their style? Because, among them, only General Giap is part of recent history and we have plenty of his images. The others lived centuries ago.
The image of General Ly Thuong Kiet was highly appreciated by the Ministry of Culture's verification jury as well as historians. Our portrait of him has been endorsed by his admirers and descendants, the Ngo family [Ly Thuong Kiet's real name is Ngo Tuan].
Our Tran Quoc Tuan statue is a copy of a statue in the northern city of Nam Dinh. Our design was made with the help of the creator of the statue,Vuong Duy Bien.
The King Quang Trung statue is a copy of one on Dong Da Hill in Dong Da District in Ha Noi.
Gen Giap is the most challenging figure, because many remember him. We introduced several models for his family members and people close to him to choose. The trouble is that there are too many images to select from at different historic moments in the nation's revolutionary history. We need more time to complete our final statues. — VNS