Educator Resources

Vietnam: The Making of the Modern and the Contemporary

How does art help us understand colonialist and nationalist ideas about race, class, and gender? What is the difference between work in a gallery and in a metal workshop? As part of their mission civilisatrice in Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), French colonial administrators created and cemented distinctions between “craft” and “fine art.” These early twentieth-century definitions set up a hierarchy of aesthetic values and practices underpinned by Orientalist assumptions that denigrated “the local” and celebrated “the Western.” Artists and intellectuals vigorously debated the purpose of their work as they sought to define their relationship to colonial rule, and later to the post-1954 nations of South Vietnam and North Vietnam. The talk looks at how art developed in the southern and northern regions of the country, and how artists have appropriated and reimagined local and foreign materials, styles, and practices.

This talk is originated from Teaching Labs: Contemporary Context Series talk 'Vietnam: The Making of the Modern and the Contemporary'. 

Speaker: Chương-Đài Võ, AAA Researcher
Language: English
Total Length: 1 hour 31 minutes

I. Background

Length: 7 minutes

I. Background

Keywords:

Southeast Asia, Nam Tiến, Thăng Long, Viet/Kinh, the Nguyễn Dynasty, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, Tonkin, Annam, Cochin China, Indochina

II. Craft V.S. Art

Length: 20 minutes

Keywords:

French colonialism, mission civilisatrice, patronage and consumption, đình (communal house), craftsmanship, lacquer painting, ceramics, Vert de Biên Hòa, woodword, gold crafting, casting, figurative painting, dong Ho wood-printing, commodification, state-sponsored schools, vocational schools, individualism

III. Socialist realism

Length: 20 minutes

III. Socialist Realism

Keywords:

Power vacuum, Hồ Chí Minh, Việt Minh/Vietnamese Communist Party, anti-colonial, Điện Biên Phủ, socialist realism, Geneva Conference, 17th Parallel, Trường Chinh, heroism, nationalism, dân tộc hóa (to make things Vietnamese), đại chúng hóa (to popularise/to make common), khoa học hóa (to make scientific), soldier, peasant, proletariat, masculine unisex figures, poster, mobilisation. community/communal life, collectivisation, Nhân Văn and Giai Phẩm, Land Reform Movement (1955–56), social ostracism

IV. Expressionism 

Length: 22 minutes

IV. Expressionism

Keywords:

Exodus of people from the North to the South, Ngô Đình Diệm, Sang Tao, First International Exhibition of Fine Arts (1962), European Expressionism, German Expressionism, Chinese art, Japanese art, Association of Young Saigonese Artists, re-education camps, international embargo (1975), economic liberation (1986), Salon Natasha

V. Performance art and installation art

Length: 22 minutes

V. Performance Art and Installation Art

Keywords:

Experimentation, diaspora, performance art, video art, installtion art, Blue Space, Nhà Sàn

Guided questions:

  1. What are the effects of colonialism on the colonisers and colonised in Vietnam, and how are they reflected its art?
  2. How did the preservation/loss of historical documentation in different regions of Vietnam affect its art history? What about in your own cultural context?
  3. Would you agree that it is essential to teach students towards a pluarity of (art) histories, and disorient from a single, linear, and homogenous narrative?

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