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tác giả:
Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu"
Nguyên Hưng
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
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I was looking forward to participating in an free and open forum in order to look deep into the problems of contemporary Vietnamese art, into its future, etc. But frankly, I am really disappointed with this "roundtable".

Disappointed, because, taking part in the "roundtable" are all "famous names," "internationally well-known experts" of Vietnamese art, and everybody is enthusiastic…, but strangely, the issues which have been examined and discussed - at least, up to this day - are just like those of the "dull roundtables" in Vietnam among the "art administrators." There is nothing new but the old discussions around "national" versus "modern," "exchange" versus "integrate," etc., and when someone speaks of an idea, then another claps, etc. Are these issues universal problems, impossible to be missed when discussing about art? To me, anyone with a good enough knowledge of art history knows with certainty: this is not so.

Then, why?

In Vietnam, the "art administrators" concern themselves with these matters, simply because they consider art as a means. This view, partly exists because of political motive, having been assigning fine art (and art in general) the duty to create the symbols full of romantic meanings, in order to support "common mutual affects," to "unite the people," to "unify the whole population" (1); but more importantly, it exists because of the outdated, superficial vision. Outdated, because the above view is the continuation of the "wartime thinking." Superficial, because "art is not appreciated by its own language" (in Nhu Huy's words), because the coordinate system is still "realism" (2), use "realism" as a ruler to measure art, etc. The artists of the "doi moi" period also commit themselves to these same mentalities, because, in reality, they are not better than those art administrators. Most of them limit their visions to such viewpoint. "They lack the language to talk about and appraise art in different categories" (in Birgit Hussfeld's words). The difference, if it exists at all, is the motive, their personal motive. This is the fastest way to gain fame and fortune. As in Kaomi Izu's direct words, they are "opportunistic,". And what about this forum? Isn't it true that Nora Taylor "threw" (on October 19) and Veronika Radulovic "caught" right after that (October 20), and then everyone has been involved into this "game of throw and catch." If the international art world sees Vietnamese art in the order "Vietnam first", "art second," as a way of judging, then I would not hesitate to tell them: they need to re-educate themselves, from the starting point. And if that is a conclusion based on the positivistic mind, then Nora Taylor's "critic" only lead herself to a fallacy trap. As a result, it just confuse others (who lack independent minds) and undermine her credibility. Isn't it true that in this very opinion, you criticized the Vietnamese artists "continue to speak about their works as 'Vietnamese' rather than giving it some universal value?" And if the Vietnamese artists express themselves that way, then why complain the way the international scene looks at us. Nora Taylor's "efforts" is only acceptable, as she sincerely acknowledged that "Every art body has both gold and brass. Very often, there is more brass than gold. If one just examines brass and makes a conclusion about that art body, it is too hasty! Here, this is gold! Don't you see it? Let take back your opinion! ...." But to me, I am afraid that the gold pieces you presented are gold-plated pieces, with brass cores! I am afraid so, because the word "universal value" in the quotation, which is consider an artistic standard, is not proper at all, especially right after that you ruled out "ethno-national notions." Which artistic mind is not a combination of many "universe-society-humanity" bonds? When an artist reaches the freedom in his thinking, his art will contain all: a personality, a people, specific humanity… When people claim a nationality of an artist, they just claim the right to be proud (this will encourage the search for creativity of young artists, and stimulate the development of a culture…). A true artist is the common property of humanity. The only fear is that they are "manipulated by the surrounding conditions" to become the "temporary/short-lived beings," or "temporary artists," who only make "temporary products!" In short, if the discussion goes on like this, I want to repeat Birgit Hussfeld: "It is tiresome". The discussion will go nowhere. And it is for nothing. Even not clearly written out, the opinion of Dao Mai Trang implies the same thought. Nhu Huy and Kaomi Izu were correct when they stated, "we have not touched the most essential issues yet."

In the essay "Criticism of Vietnamese art" which started the discussion "Where is contemporary Vietnamese art?" in this forum, I wrote: "Vietnamese art is an unfortunate art body." Many people have disagreed. But think about it, the contemporary Vietnamese art, in reality, is nothing but a "temporary/short-lived art body," which includes "temporary artists," who in turn, make arts which only have "temporary values". All of these, unfortunately, have not been realized, and have not been the subjects of criticism. Contemporary Vietnamese art, therefore, has no chance to exist in reality. Its foundation, speaking symbolically, is a "swamp". On that "swamp" nobody could build a castle. It is even impossible to stand and to walk upright. Floating on this surface currently, there are only attempts to "crawl" or "hold on to something". In Vietnam, I have brought up this opinion numerous times, in newspapers, everywhere, but it has never been examined. There is not even a reaction against it. This silence is not hard to understand. There are many reasons. One reason is the fear of "being persecuted because of honest criticism". This is the innate fear belonging to Vietnamese people. Another reason, more "harmful" is the loss of the thinking of "the common responsibility, the common future." The thought of "life is short" is widespread, so that everyone is smart in the sense of "first to a fun party, last to a hard duty". The idea of "when fatherland is in danger, the lowest man has a responsibility" is seldom mentioned... Another reason, very essential, is the limit of viewpoint. In Vietnam, everybody knows that the discoveries of the Theory of Relativity by Einstein, and of Psychoanalysis by Freud, etc. have changed the human thinking of the 20th century; however, what they have contributed to the antecedents of these thinkings, and what these thinkings are really about, etc. are still "fuzzy." This still sounds too "abstract". The reality is more "tragic". A high school graduate nowadays does not know General Psychology, General Sociology or Logic, etc. at all; then the ideas of knowing thyself, of independent thinking, do not exist at all in their minds. Even among the "so-called intellectual", "well-known" quite a lot still cannot distinguish between "freedom inside" and "freedom outside". Thus, some of them, if restrained, because of the need to exist, "keep their high spirits", but when "tasting the Western wine," they are "drunk," and confused... etc. and etc. Tons and tons of reasons. With all these reasons, and the main one is that one does not have the spirit of a free person, then what is there to hope for! If Trinh Thi Minh Ha lived in Vietnam, she would live the same obscure life. Abroad, no matter how much she has done, she remains unknown to our compatriots... In general, contemporary Vietnamese art exists as an illusion. It cannot go far. It cannot leave an imprint anywhere. Not even in the mind of Vietnamese people. As a Vietnamese, I am not happy to speak out the above words. (Furthermore, living in Vietnam, I know that the responsibility of my words is heavy...). But, it is a truth; and I believe that, not only I but also every Vietnamese sooner or later will have to face it. Face it, and then assign himself new responsibilities. Otherwise, he exists only as an illusion too.

  1. That which Kaomi Izu called "the trap of self-created symbolism with a false notion about its unique "village culture" - which are understood to be "the village-cultured mentality" by Mai Chi is incorrect; and it is wrong too when one equates it with the "nationalist perspective" as Duong Thuc An did.
  2. These words "realism", I place in quotation marks, because in Vietnam, it has a very different meaning...

© Talawas 2002