British-born artist Bridget March has a passion to document the atmosphere of Ho Chi Minh City, where the old is replaced by the new on a seemingly daily basis. Her latest book Sensational Saigon, with its evocative ink drawings and dreamy watercolors, feels like a Sunday afternoon stroll through the streets of this vibrant and dynamic city.
Having now spent six years in Vietnam, Sensational Saigon is Bridget’s third book on this country, and the first that pays homage to a city she so clearly loves.
The journey started after a conversation with a friend who at the time was living in Ho Chi Minh City. The friend suggested that Bridget move to Vietnam to practice her art.
Arriving in 2012 with no definite plans, March was inspired by the energy of Vietnam and began to fill her sketchbook with the fascinating things she saw on a daily basis. It is these types of sketches that make up the basis of Sensational Saigon.
However, it was Hoi An that inspired her to produce her first title, just six months after arriving in Vietnam. The book, called A Week in Hoi An, is a collection of sketches she produced during a Christmas holiday in Hoi An. After spending a further seven months in the town promoting the book, she came across an opportunity to live in Sapa that she couldn’t turn down.
While in Sapa, Bridget sold art to support a local school and worked on sketches for her second book. After four months, she left the mountains and headed to Ho Chi Minh City to publish A Summer in Sapa. The book is beautifully illustrated and captures her love for the culture, peoples, and landscape.
We Ain’t Got No History
Telling her personal story of Saigon, however, has been a much greater challenge, one which has taken three-and-a-half years. As she writes in the synopsis of Sensational Saigon: “By the time you have read this book, it will have changed again, but at least you might understand what is precious and what the Saigonese will take forward with them.”
Like her other two books, the latest work is a replica of her personal sketchbook, annotated with insightful thoughts and historical information. Alongside her sketches are stories of the complex culture, history, and infrastructure of Saigon and its influences.
A striking feature is both the presence and absence of colour. Leaving historical buildings in watercolour and modernization in black and white, the romantic nature of the work shines through beautifully. This is most noticeable in her sketch of the shop houses beside Ben Thanh Market where big-name brands cast their shadow over the 150-year-old houses.
“If the property owners are allowed to continue defacing, disguising, and disfiguring Saigon’s architectural heritage,” says Bridget, “these buildings will be lost and the character of this iconic area will be lost forever.”
She adds: “Saigon, is a farmer’s son who has come to the city to make his fortune. He is working tirelessly to carve his name in the 21st century. This boy is easy to get along with and doesn’t care who you are or where you are from — he just wants to know if you can help him build that brilliant future as quickly as is humanly possible.”
It is this odd balance, of old versus new, of boomtown versus history, of unstoppable activity that Bridget has tried to encapsulate in her book.
To get a copy of Sensational Saigon, click on bridgetmarch.co.uk