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Student exhibition honours Champa culture

Update: December, 01/2013 - 17:27
Heaven and earth: This panel features Hindu deities above and the daily life of Champa people at the bottom.

Silhouettes of Hindu and Buddhist deities offer visitors the chance to discover art produced during the Champa Kingdom, which ruled much of central and southern Viet Nam for centuries. Lan Dung reports.

The Champa Kingdom that ruled large areas of present-day central and southern Viet Nam until 1832, is known among scholars for its rich history, culture and art.

To honour their presence in Viet Nam, a group of high school and university students in Ha Noi has undertaken studies of the ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim kingdom, and is now presenting their work at an exhibition in the capital.

Titled Vet Nang Thap Cham (Champa Rays of Sunshine), the show consists of 30 illuminated silhouettes of three powerful Hindu deities, Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, and the beautiful red-brick towers in which they are still worshipped.

The idea of paying tribute to the unique arts of Champa came from student group leader Dinh Thao Linh. However, members were free to express their thoughts in their presentations.

"While we mostly copy original works of art, we add the surrounding patterns and arrange the artworks," Linh said. "We hope the exhibition will attract people fond of Champa arts - and also those who usually pay little attention to the nation's cultural heritage."

At the entrance to the exhibition, viewers are welcomed by sculpture styles from the kingdom's different dynasties. One painting depicts a fabulous My Son altar (E1) built in the first half of the 8th century in Quang Nam Province.

It contains a representation of Brahma or the God of Creation, being born from the navel of Vishnu or the God of Preservation. Another features the Buddhist Bodhisattva (Saint) Tara and other figures marking the arrival of Buddhism at the Champa court in the late ninth century.

Further inside, visitors are offered paintings inscribed with the students' own thoughts in Vietnamese, English and French. Images of Shiva or God of Destruction, and Ganesha, God of Success or carry the words Toi la than and Je suis un Dieu (I am God, We are gods). The student group also uses some old Champa script, based on Sanskrit, including the Sanskrit word "Om", which describes the sound of the universe.

Nguyen Minh Khang, a specialist from Viet Nam's Department of Cultural Heritage, said that the exhibition was impressive. "Champa culture has been brought to viewers through the language of art. I am in charge of Champa research and conservation, and I am prepared to help if the group is interested."

It took the group three months to prepare their project.

Nguyen Ngoc Mai, a student from Ha Noi University of Industrial Fine Arts, was in charge of the artwork. Together with other members, she researched information and drafted paintings based on a collection of documents.

"We had lots of difficulties in finding written documents on Champa arts because information, especially in Vietnamese, is rare. However, we found some in English on the internet," she said.

The group was also under great pressure to complete 30 paintings. Linh said: "It was not so difficult for us to find subjects for one or two paintings, but for 30 it became difficult to unearth inspirations. However, we took on the challenge."

She said she believed that any difficulties would eventually be worth it. And she was right. The endless research to find material on Champa people taught group members precious lessons - and widened their knowledge of the Indian-based culture.

Ha Minh Tuan, curator of the exhibition, said that the group worked in a serious and strict manner. "The ideas were all from group members. I only gave them advice on the outline of the show. Their lighting and silhouettes still need some improvement, but they have become professional and I believe they will always keep their new found passion for the arts," he said.

Reviving interest

The student group, known as Lan Hoi (Restropection), was founded in August last year. It is aimed at bringing the arts closer to everyone, especially the younger generation.

Their first exhibition on Vietnamese history, held last November, attracted much attention considering that thousands of students received zero marks for their history papers in their entrance university exam that year.

However a second exhibition on the country's resistance against French colonialism held earlier this year was not as popular.

Then membership of the group fell from 47 to 10 as many students decided to go their own way. They could not figure out whether they were following the arts or were just researching history and culture.

Yet, the remainder still decided to open a third exhibition. "We were feeling dispirited. We argued with each other about our interest and how we could share it with others instead of just keeping it in our minds," founder Linh said.

Talking about the future, she said the group would re-define its potential. "We are not completely satisfied with what we have done; but we have plans. At present, we do not want to say anything in advance because of the old saying: "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."

The exhibition will continue at Mozek Cafe at 2 Cua Nam Street until December 6. — VNS

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