The Paris-based National Museum of Asian Arts (also known as the Guimet Museum) is the biggest museum of Asian arts in Europe, and is home to the most beautiful collections of Asian arts in the world. It houses precious Vietnamese collections and has organised various traditional concerts to present Vietnamese culture to the French public.
Bach Lien talks with Hubert Laot, artistic director of the museum, who visited Ha Noi this week to introduce the museum to the Vietnamese public.
The museum is home to precious Vietnamese collections. What objects related to Vietnamese art can visitors see at your museum?
Visitors to the museum can view a great collection of Champa art. We also have some dragon sculptures. One of the main attractions is a golden wooden statue of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara with one thousand arms dating from the Le – Nguyen dynasty at the end of 18th and early 19th centuries. It was donated in 1889 by Gustave Dumoutier [assistant to Resident-General of Tonkin Paul Bert, and also the inspector of the Franco-Vietnamese school system].
Exhibitions have been held at the museum to honour Vietnamese art and introduce it to the French public.
In 2005, we organised an exhibition on Champa art with the collaboration of museums in Da Nang and HCM City.
More recently in 2014, we organised an exceptional exhibition focusing on a fantastic creature: the dragon. The show was entitled The Flight of the Dragon.
The exhibition featured many works representing the legendary animal that is the source of countless stories. It invited visitors to travel through the ages, from the Bronze Age (around 1,500 BC) until the last royal dynasty of the Nguyen in 1945, and to observe the evolution of this mythical creature that has crossed millennia.
Some of these objects had never been displayed outside Viet Nam before. We worked with the Viet Nam National Museum and were able to select some of their masterpieces. It was also an opportunity to show some of our own collection as only about ten per cent of it is displayed at any one time.
As artistic director of the museum, you also organise concerts and films showcasing Vietnamese culture at the museum. Can you tell us about them?
Yes, I've worked at the museum for 15 years. Since 2001, I have been organising diverse traditional Vietnamese music concerts, screening Vietnamese films and holding conferences about Vietnamese music.
I have worked with some talented Vietnamese music researchers living in France, including Professor Tran Quang Hai, son of Professor Tran Van Khe who died last week, and more recently, I have worked with singer Huong Thanh.
In 2013, we organised a cai luong show for the very first time, and Thanh invited several old artists. It was a great success and sold out. Some months later, cai luong was recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It was a great pleasure for us because we felt we had done something useful.
How were those exhibitions and concerts welcomed by audiences?
They were highly acclaimed. Our spectators were very happy.
We welcomed people from different countries, and they were happy to enjoy authentic traditional music performed by talented Vietnamese artists.
Most of the time, the only Vietnamese music they have heard are the songs played in Vietnamese restaurants, which is different from the traditional music played at the museum.
I am glad to see that more and more Vietnamese people are coming to the shows. During a cai luong show in 2013, I was touched to see some old Vietnamese people in the audience who cried a lot. I think the melodies reminded them of their childhoods and homeland.
Is Vietnamese culture well-known in Paris?
No, it is relatively unknown, but it is starting to draw more interest. There are about 400,000 Vietnamese people living in France, but it's quite a closed community. They have organised many cultural events, but not many French people attend them.
Over the last few years, we have made more efforts to introduce Vietnamese culture to the French public. I hope that more Vietnamese artists will visit France to perform and promote their rich musical industry.
Do you have any more projects planned to help promote Vietnamese culture in Paris?
I hope to invite artists from the central region of Viet Nam to perform at the museum.
We have invited artists from the North and the South, but not artists from the centre.
I would like them to perform dances from their region. I've heard that the centre of Vietnam is famous for its dances.
We have organised several Vietnamese concerts with singing, but traditional dancing is still very rare.
During this trip, I've discovered more about Vietnamese culture, and I want to enrich the Vietnamese collections at the museum. - VNS