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Exhibition replicates world of Hà Nội’s street vendors through decades

Update: September, 17/2019 - 11:31


Visitors interact with the photos, which are embedded in glass on the floor and light up when someone steps on them. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng

Thuý Hằng

HÀ NỘI – Street vendors – a unique feature of Hà Nội’s culture, are the theme of an art exhibition taking place at L’Espace.

Entitled Gánh Hàng Rong và Những Tiếng Rao Trên Đường Phố Hà Nội (The Hà Nội’s Street Vendors and Their Cries), the exhibition presents a collection of sketches and paintings  created by 15 students of the École des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine in Hà Nội (the current Việt Nam University of Fine Arts) and their lecturer, Ferdinand de Fénis, from 1925-1929.

The exhibition depicts the vivid world of the street vendors, who wander to every corner in the city with their shoulder baskets filled up with vegetables, fruit, or snacks.

Through the paintings, audience can see the “movement” or pressure of the heavy load they carry on their shoulders.

According to Lê Duy Phương, who arranged the exhibition, to offer visitors the best visual effect, all the sketches and paintings have been reprinted on traditional (poonah) paper.

Each painting has been framed together with a small speaker hidden behind playing different street vendors’ cries, reviving the atmosphere of Hà Nội’s old days.

Alongside the sketches and paintings, the exhibition also displays a collection of 27 old photos selected from archives consisting of thousands of photos of the French School of the Far East (EFEO).

Street vendors supplied food and foodstuff for more than 100,000 city residents during the 1920s. The photos have been embedded in glass on the floor and light up everytime someone steps on them to reveal the picture.

Alongside the cries of street vendors, visitors can hear the cries of scrap and other used item dealers, such as those looking for hair, glass bottles or soap containers.

At the exhibition, visitors can see the change of street vendors over the years.

After decades, they no longer use shoulder poles to carry their stuff. Instead, bicycles or even motorbike were used. The oral cries became also extinct in the bustling city, replaced by electrical speakers with recorded cries.    

The 'symbolic' item of Hà Nội’s scrap dealers – a rusty bicycle with a speaker set up in front basket sounding the cries “Ai loa đài, TV, tủ lạnh bán đi” (Any old speaker, radio, TV, fridge to sell) can be seen at the exhibition. This bicycle was bought by the EFEO from a scrap dealer.

Visitors interact with the photos, which are embedded in glass on the floor and light up when someone steps on them. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng

As the street vendors’ cries are an important part of the exhibition, Trịnh Tín, a member of Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc (Ancient Music Group of Tonkin), together with his group members, has worked hard to collect and record all the cries.

“We even met very old people to learn about the cries that were extinct since decades ago such as the ones by phở (Vietnamese noodle soup) and sea crab vendors,” Tín said.

“Our intention is to present the cries in day-to-night order. Therefore, you can hear the cries for bánh mì (baguette) or xôi (steamed sticky rice) in the morning, the tào phớ (sweet beancurd dessert) and chè sen (lotus seed sweet dessert) in the afternoon, and phở in the evening,” he said.

Alongside the vendors’ cries, his team also recorded some tunes of chèo (traditional opera) and ca trù (ceremonial singing) to add other Hà Nội sounds.

The free entry Hà Nội’s Street Vendors and Their Cries opens until October 31 at L’Espace, 24 Tràng Tiền Street. – VNS

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