Nguyen Thuy Trang studied arts and media at L'E'cole superieure des Beaux-Arts d'Angers, from where she graduated in 2012. She received an award from the Viet Nam Fine Arts Association in 2010 and took part in the International Mini Textile Exhibition in France in 2012. She talks with Lan Dung about her recent exhibition in Ha Noi.
Venetian-inspired masks, photographs and visual art showcased at Carnevale di Venezia (The Carnival of Venice) exhibition from June 13 to 15 caught the attention of the audience in Ha Noi.
These were all made by Nguyen Thuy Trang, 26, who is the founder of the Ti Toay art factory for children.
Inner sanctum: Where did you get the idea of making Italian-inspired masks and why did you choose Vietnamese materials such as straws, cloth and bamboo to make them?
As this is a cultural exchange programme between Viet Nam and Italy, I wanted to do something to connect the culture of the two countries. When studying in France, I visited Venice and was impressed by its masks that hung everywhere. A long time ago, people in Venice initiated the carnival with the aim of erasing inequality in society. I was haunted by the questions, "Why do they want to wear masks? Is it because they hide the people inside them and their status, or is it because they are wishing for equality in society?" I want to make these masks to find the answers.
I got the idea of making masks from Venice, but the story and spirit of Viet Nam was in them. If I had made Venetian masks while the characters were Vietnamese, they would have not felt familiar when wearing them. When putting on the masks made by everyday materials, actors and actresses would feel more familiar.
Inner sanctum: Have your concerns been answered after the exhibition?
Not yet. I think it is very difficult to find the exact answers. Arts require artists to find new things and artists need to test a lot. This exhibition is just a test. I invited six people to participate in a video and asked them for help to answer my questions. However, the answers are still unanswered.
Inner sanctum: You seem to be interested in human beings and the environment around them. At the International Mini Textile Exhibition in France 2012, your work titled "Moi, Toi, Nous, Vous" (You, I, We, They) also expressed this theme. Why did you choose these ideas to reflect in your art?
I think the environment has become developed and more complicated while people have become more unclear about everything. Their minds and hearts have become more chaotic and hard to mould.
I am very curious about how people live and work and these works of art are my way of discovering that. You know, every artist reflects the era he or she lives in through their art.
Inner sanctum: You established the Ti Toay art factory in June 2013 in Ha Noi to give children an opportunity to approach contemporary arts. Why did you decide to open the factory and target children?
Contemporary art is quite new in Viet Nam. When I opened the art factory, many people regarded it as a centre to teach children drawing and painting. It took so much time and effort to introduce visual art and media art to parents. They still think of arts in a traditional way, requiring painstaking drawings while modern art is freer and more non-conventional. I wanted to use the knowledge I had imbibed in France to pass on modern art to the children, hoping to have a new generation with artistic minds.
In France, art appears everywhere, even in their conversations. The French have approached art since an early age. French adults allow their children to paint on walls, while Vietnamese parents do not. The French also spend time taking their children to museums and explain the exhibits to them. Not many Vietnamese adults do that.
When I visited the museum in France, I often saw groups of students looking at paintings and commenting on them. I have never seen such a scene in any of the Vietnamese museums.
Inner sanctum: Contemporary art is new to even adults. So how can Ti Toay teach it to children?
We will introduce works of art of globally known artists to the children and let them comment on them. We should respect their viewpoint and not try to put our ideas in their minds. Children may not be good at drawing but they could have the tendency of commentary. Therefore, our lessons should focus on letting them think about art.
Children do not care if it is contemporary or traditional art. They accept new things quickly and react to the art quickly, too.
Inner sanctum: What do you think about contemporary art in Viet Nam? Have you seen it developing?
Before studying abroad, I went to some exhibitions and saw installations and performing arts. At that time, I did not understand it because it was too new. It depended so much on artists because I saw some make their artworks with sudden inspiration.
I am just an artist, so I do not have a general view as curators. However, I think pieces of work are better. There are some places such as Nha San, San Art and DocLab sponsoring art exhibitions. With the increasing number of artists studying abroad, I think the profession will improve. — VNS