Hue Citadel, Hue City. Image by author

The discourse on arts and craft in the art-making process of Vietnam has changed enormously over the last decades. These changes were accelerated by the effects of the Đổi Mới reforms, together with government post-war nation-building policies, the urge to catch up with and integrate into the global market and what’s left over of the colonial and feudal history. This led to  where the terminologies of arts  and crafts have shifted in different times in Vietnamese contexts such as: arts (nghệ thuật, mỹ thuật), crafts (thủ công mỹ nghệ), artist (nghệ sĩ, họa sĩ), artisan (nghệ nhân, thợ thủ công truyền thống) as well as the notions attached to each concepts such as traditional, modern, innovative, authentic. Moreover, these changes over various periods has created different nuances and meanings of the idea of art and craft and continued to evolve until today.

Huế city is a perfect representative of such debate on arts and crafts. Bound to symbol of the old citadel, Huế has a long and significant history of arts and crafts connected toimperial and colonial past. The capital has also been a place of spirituality since its founding in 1802. Meanwhile,  this rich history has also become a challenge for contemporary artists in Hue to create alternative narratives as well as being unrecognized in modern and contemporary art history writing in its independent agency.

Through a re-examination of the historical definitions/terminologies of craft and arts, artisan and artist, craft workshop and art university through interviews and archival documents, I would like to further explore how the conceptualization and reconstruction  of those concepts have effected the way artists, artisans and the public in general in the creative process, production and use of art in everyday life. Especially through existing and continuing debate on the art making process of contemporary artists in Hue.

My project will also investigate spaces where the knowledge circulation, transmission and exchange of art and craft took place: artisan’s workshops, artists’ studios, the art university and social gather public spaces such as cafes and restaurants where they hang out  in Huế. Choosing three main materials: wood, paper, lacquer echoing its regular uses from the royal courts, spiritual temples to contemporary artworks, I look forward to explore the meanings of the materials in the context of a suburban rural city transformed to a urban structure of Huế.

The interior decoration of the citadel, Hue City. Image by author

In Subnature, David Gissen, author of our? critically acclaimed Big and Green, examines experimental work by today’s leading designers, scholars, philosophers, and biologists that rejects the idea that humans can somehow recreate a purely natural world, free of the untidy elements that actually constitute nature. Each chapter provides an examination of a particular form of subnature and its actualization in contemporary design practice.

Borrowing the term of Subnature from David Gissen’s book “Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments” which refers to “environmental forces such as dust, mud, gas, smoke, debris, weeds, and insects” as an essential part of architecture and the environment, I would like to explore the sub-nature element of site/ space that have played a critical role in the material/ craft being produced. How it was in the past and how it has changed in present day considering Huế as one of the cities frequently affected by climate change, natural disasters as well as remnants of the war.

Mapping the citadel mural by a contemporary artist, Hue City. Image by author

The project combines anthropological, visual and textual analysis method to work out between borders of oral history and archival history. It hopes to shed a new way of looking at the past and looking forwards to the future and contributes to the lack of art history/ theory writing in Huế today.

The artisans working on lacquer works, Hue City. Image by author


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