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Hard life makes beautiful art

Update: August, 31/2014 - 12:00

A school teacher from a remote village in Ninh Binh province is also an artist who makes carvings and statues.

He does them to show how people around him live their lives.

Most of them are fishermen and farmers.

When this teacher tells the stories of their hard lives through his sculptures and carvings, it makes for beautiful artwork.

Rural tale: People contemplate Chuyen que (Village Story), which won three prizes.
Rural tale: People contemplate Chuyen que (Village Story), which won three prizes. - VNS Photo Courtesy of Ku Kao Khai

By Tran Hoa 

A village teacher has stunned the nation by winning three of the top prizes in a competition against hundreds of sculptors from all over Viet Nam.

His winning masterpiece Chuyen que (Village story), depicts the sea and the hardships of seamen in his coastal hometown in the northern province of Ninh Binh's Kim Son District.

Three prizes for one

Ku Kao Khai, 36, showed promise as a painter and sculptor. But after graduating from university, he returned to his hometown and instead of practising fine arts, worked as a teacher at the Kim Tan Junior Secondary School.

Khai's friends thought he would be resigned to his fate and to teaching. But even while teaching, Khai quietly created works of art about his hometown. He surprised everybody who knew him when he attended the recent national sculpture exhibition and won three of its top prizes with a single piece.

Village story depicts a couple working on the alluvial ground of the Kim Son Sea. Besides hard work, sunshine and winds, the sea also brought the couple lots of fish, shrimp and happiness.

The work, described as "rustic but not unrefined" by critic Le Quoc Bao, earned second prize (there was no first prize in the competition) from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. It also got the A prize from the Viet Nam Fine Arts Association, and the A prize in an exhibition at the Hong (Red) River area.

News of the teacher's victory brought much joy to Kim Son District and attracted much public attention to the hardships suffered by residents of the poor and obscure fishing village.

As a child, Khai gained intimate knowledge of the sea from stories and actual experiences of fishing trips of his father and neighbours. When he grew up, he became a fisherman, going on off-shore trips that often lasted for a month and returning home with a boat full of fish.

To get a bountiful catch, the fishermen must go up against a variety of difficulties that include the strong waves of the ocean and the scorching heat of the sun.

"The area where I live is alluvial ground that is blessed with much sunshine and wind," Khai said. "It is the living space of hard-working people. A quick look at the place will show you only the exhausting work. But with the language of painting and sculpture, I want to recreate the rare and radiant beauty of the place alongside the difficulties of life by the sea."

In most of Khai's stories, the fishermen are depicted as dirt-black and austere. But their beauty is seen to come from the hardships in their lives.

"As they head out to sea, I like seeing them completely wrapped up in catching fish and shrimps and seeing the happiness on their faces as they fight to survive against the fierce waves. Their beauty is simple but respectable," said Khai.

Besides teaching, Khai also works on his own shrimp farm, an enterprise that has given others the impression that he is wealthy. He reveals that his wealth comes not from the shrimp farm but rather, from his deep understanding of the fishermen in his homeland.

 


100 stories about sea

"The fishermen not only earn their living courtesy of the sea, but are also the owners of the sea. I want to help them in their struggle for a better life with sculpture that tells their story," he said.

Khai is now on track to make his dream of telling 100 stories about the sea through his sculptures come true.

Probably his most impressive work revolved around Chinese ships and water cannons which were used to prevent Vietnamese fishermen from operating on their own waters.

Last May, China illegally dispatched the oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981, along with a large fleet of armed vessels, military ships and aircraft, to Viet Nam's continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

Khai's work described a huge ship crashing into small boats and water cannons, blowing away fishermen's catches.

"I think the nation's sovereignty has been confirmed by simple labourers. They remain steadfast in daily work to protect the nation's sovereignty against rain and wind," said Khai.

So far, most of the art works about the nation's seas and islands take the form of music and poems, but Khai has found sculpture more suitable for describing the fishermen and the sea.

As a teacher, Khai has shared his knowledge of the nation's seas and islands with his students. From the confines of his village school, his students have in turn deepened their understanding of and love for their country and its sovereignty. — VNS

GLOSSARY

His winning masterpiece Chuyen que (Village story), depicts the sea and the hardships of seamen in his coastal hometown in the northern province of Ninh Binh's Kim Son District.

To depict something means to describe it through a work of art.

Khai's friends thought he would be resigned to his fate and to teaching.

Your fate is what is going to happen to you because you do not have control of your future.

Village story depicts a couple working on the alluvial ground of the Kim Son Sea.

Alluvial ground is filled with soil that has got there after having flowed down a river.

The work, described as "rustic but not unrefined" by critic Le Quoc Bao, earned second prize (there was no first prize in the competition) from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Rustic means "plain and simple".

Unrefined means "not smart"

News of the teacher's victory brought much joy to Kim Son District and attracted much public attention to the hardships suffered by residents of the poor and obscure fishing village.

Obscure means "almost unknown".

As a child, Khai gained intimate knowledge of the sea from stories and actual experiences of fishing trips of his father and neighbours.

Someone with intimate knowledge of the sea knows it very well because they have a close relationship with the sea.

To get a bountiful catch, the fishermen must go up against a variety of difficulties that include the strong waves of the ocean and the scorching heat of the sun.

A bountiful catch would be one with many fish.

A variety of difficulties means "many, different difficulties".

But with the language of painting and sculpture, I want to recreate the rare and radiant beauty of the place alongside the difficulties of life by the sea."

To recreate something means to make it once again (in an art form).

Something that is rare is uncommon.

Radiant means "glowing".

In most of Khai's stories, the fishermen are depicted as dirt-black and austere.

Austere means living a hard and strict way of life.

"The fishermen not only earn their living courtesy of the sea, but are also the owners of the sea. I want to help them in their struggle for a better life with sculpture that tells their story," he said.

Courtesy of the sea means "thanks to the sea". In other words the sea gives a life to the fishermen.

Last May, China illegally dispatched the oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981, along with a large fleet of armed vessels, military ships and aircraft, to Viet Nam's continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

The continental shelf is like an underwater step at the edge of a continent, which causes the sea to be shallow near the coast before the step drops and it becomes deep.

Every country has certain rights to things like fishing and natural resources such as gas and oil for a certain distance off its coastline.

"I think the nation's sovereignty has been confirmed by simple labourers.

A nation's sovereignty is its right to rule over its lands.

They remain steadfast in daily work to protect the nation's sovereignty against rain and wind," said Khai.

Steadfast means "reliable, committed and responsible".

From the confines of his village school, his students have in turn deepened their understanding of and love for their country and its sovereignty.

The confines of his village school are the imaginary walls that separate the school from the rest of the world, keeping him inside.

WORKSHEET

State whether the following sentences are true, or false:

1.        China's entering Viet Nam waters has not only caused a problem for the government of Viet Nam but also for fishermen.

2.        Ninh Binh province is in the south of Viet Nam.

3.        Haiyang Shiyou-981 is an oil rig.

4.        The fishing trips that Ku Kao Khai went on as a child were never longer than a week.

5.        Kim Son District is in Ninh Binh province.

ANSWERS:

© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2014






























 1. True; 2. False; 3. True; 4. False; 5. True.

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