Street art in Vietnam

For a long period of time, when people thought about Vietnam, they just had the Vietnam war in their head. Street art appears as a modern and attractive way to deconstruct obsolete stereotypes and generate new ideas about the country.

Street art must not be political

Urban art was discovered little over a decade ago in Vietnam. It is just entering its teens as compared to the ones in other developed countries. Graffiti and murals had found their way to emerge in the country where censorship was tightened. Exhibitions, spectacles, television programs and other visual arts must have the approval by the local government to take place. Any artwork which does not portray the Communist Party or its leaders favorably will be censored.  Nowadays, there is a tolerance. It’s been more welcomed on the capital Hanoi or in Saigon, the most developed city of the country. However, to be accepted by the authorities, street art must be apolitical. Direct political critique could be potentially dangerous.

Urban art and traditional elements
Artworks of some artists are remarkably influenced by traditional elements. DR

 This artwork depicts a street vendor in Vietnam. Even though by no way is it unique to Vietnam only, street vending is an essential part of city life. It has existed in the capital Hanoi for hundreds of years. In general, fruits, flowers and domestic products are the most common goods. What makes it more Vietnamese is the palm-leaf conical hat, one of the symbolic icon of Vietnam.

Lunar new year in Vietnam: the most important holiday of the country.

This is an occasion for family and friend reunion, so it’s also an ideal opportunity for binge-drinking. Drinking is a standard part of most Vietnamese social engagement because it is believed that drinking helps establishing closer connections with others.  This mural was created by Vietmax, a graffiti pioneer in Vietnam.  He is considered as the founder of the Vietnamese hip-hop scene and graffiti culture. Once intimating and being inspired by western styles, Vietmax has found his own one and tried to depict traditional topics by contemporary patterns.

An impressive way to spread the message of environmental protection.
Save the Rhino – An art project to raise awareness of Vietnamese people about hunting and consumption of rhino horn.

This vivid wall belongs to Philip Genochio, a British expat artist. By joining the campaign, he hoped to awaken citizens’ consciousness of the issue as well as bring graffiti closer to the public.

Nhi Thoi, the project manager, decided to inform on the topic by street arts rather than traditional media in hopes of reaching broader public. The initial ideas were to convey the message by using shocking images such as dead rhinos or other stunning things. However, after months waiting, 11 local and international artists ended up by choosing less aggressive illustrations to have the project approved by the local government.

The contemporary style paintings create a space that connects the city’s heritage with its artistic and community values.
Vandalism or art?

Advertising stencils was found down alleyways, on the face of public buildings, and even on the walls of people’s homes. Layer upon layer, paint is applied to cover up the vandalized surfaces by illegal advertisements, but new “KCBT and phone numbers” always reappear within days. KCBT stands for “khoan cat be tong”, meaning concrete cutting and drilling, or demolition services.

French artist Lolo Zazar found theses walls a form of art rather than just vandalism. Having lived in Vietnam for 20 years, Lolo captured hundred photos of this accidental street art and had held several exhibitions all over the country.  

Street art in Vietnam is expected to explode in the years to come. First generation artists have made efforts to take the urban art from a niche interest to a driving cultural force. It seems that the government is adopting a more tolerant attitude toward this form of art, but whether artists have real freedom of expression remains unanswered.

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