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Color of the South

On Nov. 1, hundreds gathered at Ho Chi Minh City’s Museum of Fine Arts for the opening of The Colour of the South exhibition. Among the art lovers were collectors, critics and journalists. This was a full-blown affair with congratulatory floral displays and opening remarks made by the Vice President of Vietnam’s Fine Arts Association. Inside, the air was thick with anticipation — outside, the courtyard echoed with buzzing clicks of handheld cameras. This was not a typical Friday morning at the museum.


What was all the fuss about?

 

The Colour of the South was organised by a senior painters’ collective of the same name. Formed in 2002, the three founding members pooled money to rent a gallery space and agreed to donate five percent of all sales to pay for the following year’s show.

 

“Most of us have known each other for 40-plus years,” explains Duong Sen, the jovial 64-year-old lacquer artist who is also the oldest member of the group. “While we continue with our independent projects, we wanted to create a sustainable way of working that would provide us with financial and artistic freedom. With the group’s account, we are able to sponsor those who are struggling.”

 

Nguyen Dang Khoat, the group’s silk painting artist, adds, “I used to own a gallery and was so busy that I didn’t have time to create art. For me, the perk is that we share responsibilities in organising and rallying publicity.”

 

The Show

 

There are currently six artists in the collective, all of whom are well-travelled and established painters. The exhibition’s 136 paintings drew on their collective experience to lay bare southern Vietnam’s textures and cultures. On one end of the spectrum, oil painter Xuan Chieu incorporates geometric designs used to decorate traditional musical instruments in his narrative, folklore-based paintings. On the other, lacquer artist Luong Khanh Toan is an advocate for building planes, and prefers to layer round-edged, free-formed shapes to create figurative portraitures.

 

While the stylistic versatility of the collective is undeniable, some visitors, particularly the novice admirers, found the exhibition overwhelming. A high school student who visited with his class commented on feeling disoriented by the eclectic display and sheer volume of paintings. Rightly so — when one is submerged in Ho Minh Quan’s lush green fields and suddenly jolted into Dam Thuy’s surrealist landscape of blue buffalos, the effect can be perplexing.

 

In spite of these occasional clashes, The Colour of the South was still a worthwhile effort. Not only were the paintings featured a vibrant break from the tame composition of the Museum’s general collection, the exhibition illustrates a successful model of local artists coming together and building lasting working relationships with one another. — Kelly L. Le

 

The Colour of the South closed on Nov. 18. For more information on the group, please contact its youngest and only female member, Ms. Dam Thuy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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