And of Other Things: New Spheres of Creative Expression in Vietnam
By Fabiola Buchele
At & Of Other Things, we love finding creative niches and corners of self-expression whether short-lived or sustainable that come into being despite lacking funds, little infrastructure and limited exposure.
In Vietnam, alternative ideas and projects outside the mainstream cultural progress often rely on DIY efforts and brave creative minds to create spaces that allow for progress. Luckily, the avant-garde in Vietnam continue to create ever more spaces to explore the issues that shape contemporary culture and art.
Still heavily monitored and informed by cultural guidelines written in the mid 1940s, artistic endeavors have to go through a screening process, which may see certain works deemed unfit for public display. But creatives being creative are finding ways around the restrictions. It may come at the expense of reaching a large audience, cleverly having to disguise a message or exhibiting, but any and every effort shows that there is always someone willing to go out on a visionary limb.
Three new projects stand out for their respective strategies to reach their audience, spread a message and find their own language.
Art for You
This ‘affordable art market’ co-organised by two of Hanoi’s most innovative spaces, the independent art hub Manzi and design studio Workroom Four has in its four runs (and counting) become a unique fixture in the contemporary art world’s event calendar. And though operating under a souvenir shop license to avoid having to submit the hundreds of artworks to the censorship board, it is making strides in the public realm of art as it touches upon a number of issues concerning the contemporary art world of Vietnam.
It is first and foremost an opportunity for art lovers to buy art that fits a non-collector budget. But it is also a thoughtfully curated exhibition that showcases noteworthy established and upcoming contemporary artists who have few exhibition opportunities. And as if that is not enough, they also manage to squeeze in an awareness raising aspect: Art needs appreciators and buyers to be sustainable and all they need is their personal taste to inform their purchase.
The self-taught artist Nguyễn Giang who is the fine young mind behind the Black Hole blog first started this project to combat his own boredom. He needed something to do every day. So he turned to the public with a simply premise: send me your secret and I will illustrate it. No edits, no judgment, no identification.
He unwittingly stumbled across a space that allowed both him and his contributors and readers a realm of self-exploration that is hard to find offline. Seeing that the young artist received a total of 4000 anonymous messages, which range from fear of rejection from a teenage crush, to accounts of multiple abortions and abuse, he clearly struck a nerve.
As psychological issues and emotional trauma remain something of a non-topic in Vietnam’s society Black Hole created a safe space to share and find one is often not the only one to have the kind of secret buried deep in ones conscious that can make you feel isolated, alone and outcast
Queering the Vietnamese Language
The Queer Dictionary coming into existence as part of the annual Queer Festival hosted by the art collective Nhà Sàn is one of those independent projects that shine a light on what already exists but is conveniently ignored.
Though LGBTI issues are becoming increasingly accepted in mainstream Vietnam, the full scope of the diverse world of queer lives is little known or talked about. Activism tends to stay with calls for same-sex marriage and LGBTI health issues. The Queer Dictionary is looking to broaden that mindset.
As restrictive as categories can be, the complete absence of vocabulary that describes shared experiences of marginalized groups is equally problematic as it renders them invisible.
This endeavor brings those people together with the artists behind the project to collect words that are already in use by the queer community and inventing vocabulary that might be useful. Theirs is a playful approach to language. One that is aimed much more at community members themselves that to raise awareness on a larger scale… as safe bubbles like these need to exist for those who are too often dismissed in even the most unconscious of ways.
Fabiola Buchele is the Managing Editor of & Of Other Things.
& Of Other Things is an online publication based in Hanoi that covers contemporary alternative culture and art in Vietnam. “We look for the narratives and stories outside the mainstream as that’s where the most intriguing and inspiring stuff tends to happen”.
Visit www.andofotherthings.com to get to know some of the most noteworthy creative minds and makers working in Vietnam today.