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Courageous calligraphers proud to compete with their male counterparts

Update: February, 18/2015 - 08:00
Duong Hai Au, 36, rejects traditional attitudes that considered calligraphy only a man's field. She says that such opinions have made her try even harder to prove her talent. — VNS Photo Van Dat

by Van Dat

HCM CITY (VNS) — Calligraphy is no longer only a man's occupation in Viet Nam, but the image of a woman sitting and donating words to passersby is somehow still unusual to many people.

A few days before the Lunar New Year, calligraphers, or ong do, who were once primarily well-educated males in the feudal era, decorate their booths along HCM City's Pham Ngoc Thach Street before the Youth Cultural House and the Labour Palace on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.

Amid male calligraphers and the crowd of people jostling for space to see how she performs, Nguyen Tuyet Nhu concentrates on drawing characters with yellow ink on the red paper.

The 21-year-old woman, a second-year student at HCM City University of Food Industry, says she has had an artistic aptitude since she was a child. But her calligraphy passion was inspired by her brother, who became a professional calligrapher in 2006.

"My brother Nguyen Hoang Viet instructs me and I practice for one a half years. With his encouragement, I am confident enough to come here and write. My presence here seems strange to visitors," Nhu said.

Like her male colleagues, she is enjoying the Tet atmosphere and expressing best wishes to visitors.

Another female artist, Truong Thi Hong Ngoc, is one of a dozen male calligraphers at the ong do road in Youth Cultural House.

Though she began calligraphy in 2003, this was the first time the Phan Thiet native had visited HCM City to show her talent among her male counterparts.

Ngoc, whose husband, sisters and nephews are also calligraphers, said she was pleased to hear people praise her.

"Some people's old concept was that only men can become calligraphers, but I am encouraged to try my best, and now it is my main job," Ngoc said.

Before visiting Da Nang in 1993, she was not familiar with the art. But when she bought a souvenir from a calligrapher, she became interested. The man later became her husband.

Inspired by her brother, Nguyen Tuyet Nhu, 21, is confident about showing her calligraphy work in public. — VNS Photo Van Dat

"At that time I loved him for his calligraphy talent, not his appearance," she said.

With encouragement from her husband, she practiced it after she finished doing her housework.

"Sometimes I feel very discouraged but my husband encouraged me. He said my calligraphy style was beautiful," she said.

She has since improved and sells her calligraphy to top leaders of the country.

Female calligrapher Duong Hai Au, 36, who also sits at the ong do road in front of the city's Labour Palace, said she was uncomfortable when customers questioned whether she could write beautifully.

But later, after she completed the work, the customers' faces clearly showed they were satisified.

Although she has practiced for two years, this is the first year she has done calligraphy in the public. In previous years, she assisted her teacher, calligrapher Hoa Nghiem, and did not do work on her own. But he encouraged her to try.

Male calligrapher Duong Minh Hoang, who often teaches calligraphy classes, said it was interesting to have female calligraphers in public.

Most of his students are female, but many of them are not confident about showing their work in public.

"It's interesting to see female calligraphers attending the event this year," he said.

"Now, in modern society, women have equal rights with men, so they can do everything men can do. In the feudal time, it was rare to see a female calligrapher. However, in history, there was Ho Xuan Huong and Doan Thi Diem. They are good examples for women in the current society to learn from," Hoang said, adding that he knew several good female calligraphers who were reluctant to show their work in public. — VNS

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