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Art

Last month I stumbled upon Xiang Jing’s retrospective at MOCA Taipei. I’m usually not particularly drawn to figurative sculptures but there’s something incredibly powerful in Xiang Jing’s works. She’s fluent in the language of emotions and can bring out the subtlest of expressions. I also love how her women characters are full of insecurity, defiance, and imperfection. They are also sometimes perversely cruel or indifferent.  The experience of seeing the work in person is akin to stepping into a story unfolding, or a movie scene suspended in time.

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One of my favorite classic Chinese painters is Bada Shanren (1626–1705) of the Ming dynasty. It’s not uncommon to depict animals in Chinese ink paintings but the animals in Bada Shanren’s paintings are unconventionally spirited. They are often slightly distorted and carry a look of mistrust.

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Tranh Đông Hồ – traditional woodcuts from Dong Ho village, Bac Ninh province, has been around for hundreds of years, and was most popular during the 17th and 18th century. People commonly refer to them as tranh tết as they’re often produced and sold around Tết (lunar new year) as decorations as well a charm to bring good luck. In recent years they’ve suffered from lost of interest and consequently economical difficulties. What was once a whole village’s craft, passed down through the generations, has now dwindled to a few households. The rest of the village has now turned to making hàng mã (offerings for the dead) as it is more profitable. There are only 2 woodcut masters alive who know how to make these woodcuts in the traditional style, Nguyễn Hữu Sam and Nguyễn Đăng Chế.

Tranh Đông Hồ obtain their subjects from from village life and folklore, they often depict farm animals, sometimes with human and other times by themselves. In some cases, the animals even take on the activities of human beings (such as in Đám cưới chuột – Mouse wedding, Thầy đồ cóc – the frog mandarin). Animals motifs work as allusions and metaphors. They provide rich insight into the relationship between human and animal, and the extent of respect given to animals that goes beyond seeing them merely as food.

There are 4 main themes in Đông Hồ woodprints.

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Last year I had the chance to visit some Vietnamese artists of the older generation. Many of them aside from training in the classical style, were also trained to design propaganda posters and at some point or another were employed by the state to produce propagandas. Some had famous pieces that were circulated throughout the countries.

Most of the propagandas geared towards war efforts and were very militaristic, what caught my eyes were the colorful pieces promoting farming and agriculture designed by the artist dual Minh Phương and Dương Anh. I’ll try to dig up a few photographs I took of their works.

For now, here’s a few I pulled from the internet. There’s no specific date on the posters but judging on the style, they were probably produced before 1975.

Develop poultry farming


Good rice, fat pigs, chicken in flocks. Contribute to building a prosperous village


Strong fat buffalos and cows, better productivity

Our sea is rich and beautiful. Promote fishing in Vietnam.