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Artist sets hidden works free

Update: January, 15/2015 - 10:14

Deep roots: The charcoal sketch depicts the historic Emancipation Oak in Hampton City, Virginia.

by Thuy Hang

HA NOI (VNS) — Painter Trinh Cung, one of the most important artists of pre-1975 Sai Gon, has unveiled his latest works in an exhibition that opened on Monday in Ha Noi.

Entitled Ngo (Consciousness), the show is his first in the capital for 20 years. It showcases nine sketches and seven large oil paintings.

"I haven't shown my work to the public for a long time as I felt depressed with everything I created. So I wrapped them up, locked them in a tube, brought them along with me with the hope to find a heaven, for me and for them," the artist said.

"Now at the age of 77, I have realised that my artworks need to be free, they need to be alive and that's why they are here, at this art space today."

All nine charcoal paintings were created during his visit to the US in 2013, when he felt most lonely as "everyone surrounding me did not speak the same language". He found inspiration in nature.

"Amazingly, I found the image of humans in the shape of the oak trees that I saw there almost every day. The trees then became my inspirational ‘models'. The tree trunks were like the human body and their branches like human limbs," said the painter, who graduated from the Hue Fine Art College in 1962.

Commenting on Cung's exhibition, prominent art critic Duong Tuong said: "Unlike his utility and surrealist paintings 20 years ago, these works depict a ‘useless beauty', which is not for any practical reason. That is art."

Among the oak trees that Cung depicted in his sketches is the historic Emancipation Oak, which is on the campus of Hampton University in Hampton City, Virginia.

Revelations: Oil-on-canvas The Two, which honours women's "natural" duty in reproduction.

During the American Civil War (1861-65), the peaceful shade of the oak served as the first classroom for freed African-American slaves, who previously were forbidden an education by Virginia law.

In 1863, Virginia Peninsula's black community gathered under the oak to hear the first Southern reading of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which accelerated the demand for African-American education.

Alongside the charcoal-on-paper sketches, the painter also introduces oil-on-canvas paintings, honouring women's "natural" duty in reproduction.

"Women are the ones who create human beings," he said.

Cung has shown his work in Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, London and across the US. He also works as a visiting lecturer at San Francisco State University, Indiana University, Massachusetts University and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Consciousness will be on display until January 20 at Manzi Art Space, 14 Phan Huy Ich Street. — VNS

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