Exquisite, intricate sculptures made from Việt Nam’s red sand

August, 06/2017 - 09:00

The Forgotten Land Sculpture Park, the first of its kind in Viet Nam, has put the country on the global map for professional sand sculptors, whose majestic works can be seen on the park's grounds in Phan Thiết City.

The intricate Western Architecture sculpture, created by professional sand sculptor Leonardo Ugolini, took 45 days to complete. VNS Photo Văn Châu
Viet Nam News

A new park in southern Việt Nam is attracting world-class artists who create ephemeral sand sculptures that only last from eight months to a year.

BÌNH THUẬN –  The Forgotten Land Sculpture Park, the first of its kind in Việt Nam, has put the country on the global map for professional sand sculptors, whose majestic works can be seen on the park’s grounds in Phan Thiết City.

Officially opening in January, the park, located in the southern-central province of Bình Thuận, is the brainchild of Lê Anh Tuấn, director of Việt Sand Art which sponsors visiting artists around twice a year.

Two years ago, after visiting an international sand festival in the US, Tuấn decided that the province’s red sand, known for its smoothness and adhesive qualities, would be the ideal material for sculpture.

The park, only a kilometre away from the Mũi Né beach resort area, is now home to 30 sand sculptures created by professional artists.

On a recent weekend trip to the park, I accompanied a group of tourists with park manager Trọng Minh after paying the entry fee (VNĐ100,000 for adults and VNĐ70,000 for child).

When we saw the huge, imposing sculpture called Western Dragon at the front of the park, Minh asked us how long the sculptor needed to finish the work.  

Our answers varied, from three weeks to one year, but we were shocked to learn that it had been completed in only 12 days.

The artist of the Western Dragon was one of 14 sculptors from 12 countries invited to the park in January for around a month, completing 20 works based on the theme “International and Vietnamese Tales and Myths”.

Radovan Zivny from the Czech Republic, the sculptor of the dragon, was so enamoured of Việt Nam’s people and cuisine that he has scheduled a return to the park next year.

The January exhibit, however, was not the first at the park. Early last year, Tuấn decided to test the technical qualities of the sand by inviting sculptors from Belgium and Italy, who built a “King Kong in New York City” work that has since vanished due to inclement weather. 

Then last September, he invited the same two artists, along with another professional from the Netherlands, to work on a 10 metre-long sand sculpture called “Fairy Tales and Sports”, which still stands.

The sculpture event was held to introduce the concept of sand festivals and competitions to the Vietnamese media.  

After achieving success, Tuấn was convinced that the park was a viable project with potential, and construction began in May last year. With the park finished by December, he opened to paying visitors in January.

He explained that only foreign artists had been invited so far to the park as there were still no professional Vietnamese sand sculptors in the country.

He hoped that with exposure to artists at the park, Vietnamese students would learn more about the art form. 

A sculpture based on the story of Cinderella can be reached by stairs at the Forgotten Land Park. VNS Photo Văn Châu

For women only

The park’s most recent event, the “Lady Sand Sculptor World Championship”, which took place from April 19 to May 1, featured the theme “Fairy Tales and Legends of Việt Nam and the World”. 

Eight renowned female sand sculptors from the US, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Latvia and Canada took part in the two-week event. 

Susanne Ruseler from the Netherlands won for her sculpture “The Children of a Dragon and a Fairy” about the famous legend of the origin of the Vietnamese people, which centres on a man and woman who gave birth to 100 children.

“I am like a dragon, and you are a fairy, so we cannot live together,” the man told the woman, according to legend. After the couple separated, 50 children followed the father and 50 the mother, whose descendants are the Vietnamese people. 

Ruseler, via a Facebook conversation, told me that she had chosen the story because of its characters: the powerful dragon prince, the beautiful fairy princess and the sweet children. 

Though she has academic degrees in biology and animal behavior and ecology, she began sculpting in snow, ice, stone and other materials about 14 years ago.

“The Children of a Fairy and a Dragon” sculpture won the Lady Sand Sculptor World Championship, organised by the Forgotten Land Sand Sculpture Park in late April and early May. VNS Photo Văn Châu

“I mostly work with sand, my favourite material. I travel all over the world working on projects, events and competitions,” she said on her website.   

Ruseler told me that it was her first time in Việt Nam, but she definitely wanted to come back. “The people were so nice and the food and nature was great.”  

She was impressed with the special red sand of Bình Thuận. “The sand is beautiful and very strong. I really enjoyed working with it,” she said.

The hot weather, however, made her uncomfortable as the work was physically demanding. “I shovelled tonnes of sand, and in the humidity, the sand becomes heavier,” she said.

During their stay at the park, Ruseler and all other sculptors receive a small salary, paid room and board, and free airfare from Việt Sand Art.

Popular destination

The park, which sees 500 to 700 visitors each weekday and a total of 2,000 on the weekend, contains about 30 works, averaging 10 metres in length, five metres in width, and 3.5 metres in height.

Most statues need about 12 days on average to be completed, but others take much longer, such as the highly detailed castle called "Western Architecture", which needed 45 days.  

The work, created by professional sand sculptor Leonardo Ugolini of Italy, is full of tiny window frames, columns and sharp points.

While some sculptures feature images from Western fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast, others are about famous Vietnamese scenic places such as the Thiên Mụ Pagoda in the former royal capital city of Huế and the Pô Nagar Chăm tower in Nha Trang in the southern central city of Khánh Hòa.

Although a plastic tent covers the works, the sides are open to the air, and the works can last for only eight months to one year, depending on the weather.

Opening hours for the park, whose website is www.vietsandart.com, are from 7:30am to 6pm every day.

From HCM City, visitors can reach Phan Thiết City, about 200km away, by bus, train, car or motorbike in about five hours. For those coming from the north, the nearest airport is in Nha Trang or HCM City.

With Mũi Né beach located only minutes away, with its many hotels and resorts, the sand park is sure to attract visitors for years to come, especially now that international sand sculpting competitions are becoming more popular around the world. VNS

A huge dragon sculpted by professional artist Radovan Zivny is located at the entrance of the Forgotten Land Sand Sculpture Park. VNS Photo Văn Châu