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Reviving folk art becomes a passion

Update: November, 26/2017 - 09:00
Revivalists: The SRiver team. — Photo Courtesy of SRiver
Viet Nam News

by An Vũ

Folk art not only provides a modest income for many Vietnamese, it has often been considered a national treasure. However, as modern art styles become popular, the old paintings are starting to fade into the distance.

In the so-called golden age, folk paintings were created to meet citizen’s spiritual demands, with acclaimed products and styles based in craft villages such as Đông Hồ and Sình. The variety of models, genres, themes and patterns detailed the lives of Vietnamese people.

They provided illustrations of the simple things that happen in everyday life, such as farming, herding, handicraft work and family life.

The uniqueness of folk art is enhanced by its combination with poetry, folk songs, proverbs written in Nôm (ancient Vietnamese writing system), messages on moral codes and religion, or workers dreams for well-being, an  adequate family and an equal society.

Folk paintings not only reflect people’s lives, but also record the fast changes of the nation through many periods of time, and the reaction to Western culture. Its simplicity has influenced generations of Vietnamese art lovers and foreign visitors.

Once an invaluable resource of the Vietnamese people, the old art is losing ground rapidly.

“Hanging folk painting in the house for Tết (Lunar New Year) used to be an elegant hobby, a beautiful custom of old Hà Nội. However, at present, to be able to buy an authentic Đông Hồ folk painting on the pavements of the city’s streets is mission impossible, or, if there are available, the techniques and aesthetic features are often poor," said chairman of Việt Nam Association of History Science (VAHS) Phan Huy Lê.

Therefore, a group of young Vietnamese, named "SRiver", has been formed to conserve folk painting lines, especially paintings in the Hàng Trống style.

The group consists of young people working in diffirent jobs but sharing the same passion for fine art designs and Vietnamese culture.

The age of the group ranging from 23 to 33. Half of them are graphic designers.

Trịnh Thu Trang, architect and founder of the group, said it set out to save traditional values. “As the ones who are passionate for Hàng Trống paintings and folk beauty, we gathered together to form SRiver. Our first brainchild Họa Sắc Việt (Colours and Patterns of Việt Nam) was made to reserve and uphold traditional values.

"We do not try to attach the paintings to modern life or try to cling onto something that belongs to history. What we are trying to do is select folk material that have potential to be applied to modern life, including graphic fashion and interior design. This is how we hope to revive folk values so they do not sleep permanently in museums.”

Sage advice: The SRiver team speak with researcher Phan Ngọc Khuê. — Photo Courtesy of SRiver
Patterns and colours: Họa Sắc Việt, a book on Vietnamese woodblock printing, published by the SRiver team. - Photo Courtesy of SRiver

Hàng Trống is a genre of prints made from woodblocks that originated in Hàng Trống and Hàng Nón streets in downtown Hà Nội. In the past, the art was an essential element of the Tết holiday in the capital, but today this tradition has almost disappeared.

For SRiver, this first and big venture is based on the potential of Hàng Trống art painting in particular and Vietnamese fine arts in general by collecting, analysing and copying it into a source of rich natural colours and patterns for designers and painters. They will be able to create designs for all purposes, from curtains and bedsheets and even clothing.

The idea is expounded in a book entitled Họa Sắc Việt.

“Our hindrance was the lack of sources. Folk painting is a dying art and it is hard to find some materials on the market, so we looked for them in places like Japan and South Korea. We also studied the last craftsmen, such as Lê Đình Nghiên and reseacher Phan Ngọc Khuê.

Nghiên has 70 Hàng Trống paintings so we borrowed his precious collection to copy digitally into our book. The process was made entirely by computer, and we used Illustrator software to digitalise the colour and patterns of the original paintings,” said Trịnh Hồng Vân, a member of the team.

At present, SRiver is calling for supports on Comicola website so it can complete the project on scheduled time.

“Culture is like a flow and each one of us is a drop of water. Many drops moving in the same direction create a flow. If we feel Vietnamese culture is just a small part of this big world, let’s be creators. This is the spirit of SRiver,” Vân said.

“When we started this project, we hoped we could inspire young people from all walks of life, so they also can initiate their own ideas to create projects relevant to the national folk culture,” she added.

The book will be published on March 31 of 2018. VNS

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