CITY SCENES: The programme aims to honour tangible and intangible values which belong to urban life and to raise public awareness of the need to protect the city's cultural values. Photos courtesy of Urban Sketchers Hà Nội
Vietnamese architect Phạm Thanh Sơn has found a convenient position to work on his sketching of an ancient house on Hàng Rươi Street.
Well, convenient as long as you consider the saddle of a motorbike comfortable.
Sơn is one of the most active members of Urban Sketchers Hà Nội, a Facebook group that gathers professional and amateur painters who adore Hà Nội and its beauty, and wish to keep urban cultural values by sketching them to create an urban journal.
The group focuses on research into the culture, history and architecture of urban infrastructure, which are important parts of the daily routines of architects, designers and painters.
They also guide and assist members to sketch and take notes of ancient and valuable public edifices, many of which are deteriorating due to urbanisation in Việt Nam, and also re-sketch details which are often hidden from public awareness.
Two weeks ago, the group held the Asia-link Sketchwalk Hà Nội 2019 (ALSH) event, which lasted for four days and attracted more than 350 artists from 18 countries to sketch Hà Nội.
In August, they won a "Bùi Xuân Phái – Love for Hà Nội" award for their efforts to preserve the city's cultural values.
OLD WITH NEW: Achitect Phạm Thanh Sơn paints an image of a Hà Nội urban zone on a conical hat as part of the programme.
The Asia-link Sketchwalk Hà Nội was one of the events to celebrate the 65 years of the capital's liberation (October 10, 1954 – 2019).
The painters range from 6 to 70 years of age, from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, France, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
“As an architect and a long time member, to be able to take part in this event is such an honour for me. I really hope we will have more valuable events like this in the future,” Sơn said.
Koay Shao Peng, architect and chairman of Malaysia ENHANCE-Association of Art Education Development, also a ALSH member, said while colouring his sketch, this event helped artists to connect with and learn from each other.
“This is my first time taking part in this event. I have made six or seven sketches so far, mostly random ones, but revolving around urban topic, focusing on architectural and heritage sites. I did some events in Penang before.
"In general, Penang and Hà Nội share something in common in architecture, especially the tricycle, but Hà Nội has own culture and style. I have had no difficulties drawing on the pavement, as locals are friendly. My main materials are pencil drawing and watercolour. I want to do at least 10 art pieces after I leave here.”
ACCESSIBLE: Visitors view art pieces displayed at the event.
Such Asian sketching events have become popular, partly due to their low cost.
“To be able to take part in a sketching event in Europe, a painter must pay US$330. Meanwhile, the fee to participate in ALSH is $50. After 45 minutes of opening for sales, we sold out all 200 tickets. However, we did not dare offer more tickets since we were worried we did not have enough finances and experience to hold this kind of event,” said architect and co-founder Trần Thị Thanh Thuỷ.
“With this ticket, you get two meals at the beginning and the end of the event, taken to destinations from Ngọc Sơn Temple, Bà Kiệu Temple, Statue of Emperor Lý Thái Tổ, Đồng Xuân market, to Hà Nội Opera House and Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, and are provided with paper, painting tools and some other things,” she adds.
Namchai Saensupha, a Thai artist, said the programme in Việt Nam had a lot of cultural depth.
“Certainly organising by ourselves is double the energy consumption, but we could do anything we love. And I know I had to prepare a lot but it was beyond my surprise,” he said.
Namchai Saensupha of Phuket, Thailand sketch group said he had fallen in love with Hà Nội, from trees, food, people, even the traffic: “We will definitely return to Hà Nội. What a 'super host' you are!”
Nguyễn Thị Xuân Hiền, a 60-year-old florist who attended the event in Taipei last year, said the organisation process was simple, and said a foreign artist told her that their country couldn't have pulled off such a great event.
As the event closed, artists Caroline Boisvert from Canada and Pichit Thaiyuenwong from Thailand saw the Hà Nội sketch community like a family, and made a video with a subtitle for the song entitled Power of Friendship with the lyrics:
"Bright eyes, friendly smile, we paint, do what we like.
"No matter where we come from, our friendship is the same.
"Let’s paint and share our love, keeping our friendship last long, as long as Red River flows...” VNS