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Artist lays out his hand in a game of life (December 08, 2004)

Playing cards may be merely a relaxing way to pass the time for some people, but, to artist Nguyen Minh Thanh, cards are a medium for making people think about human values, a message he conveys through a recent installation of his work exhibited at the Hanoi College of Fine Arts.

"I had the idea for this installation when I heard about the Americans printing portraits of wanted persons defeated in the Iraq war on playing cards," he recalls. "This resulted in the capture of these people becoming a kind of entertainment. If I consider my life as a game, it may be true to my own life. But viewing others' lives as a game is a way of trampling on other people."

Thanh expresses his ideas through four sets of playing cards with different categories; fame, achievement, love and war. The four categories, he said, are among the most important aspects of human life. He gives these categories the titles www.danhtieng.com, www.thanhtich.com, www.tinhyeu.com and www.chientranh.com.

Each set of cards bears two portraits of people representing the topic, he says, including Michael Jackson and Mother Theresa for "fame," Bush and Saddam Hussen for "war" and Buddha for "love."

Each person represents a different idea of their particular topic. For instance, to become famous, Michael Jackson chose a popular way to win audiences' hearts while Theresa led an austere life of hardship that gathered her fame.

The exhibition consists of eight enlarged cards on which a human face is portrayed highlighted by shadows or colours.

"Thanh is good at read ing people's faces," noted Veronika Radulovic, who teaches at the college. "He can read the joy or sorrow in faces, the pain or well-being; the misfortune or the luck."

The works at the exhibition are results of the artist's nine-month internship last year in London under the auspices of The British Council in Vietnam.

Thanh graduated from the Hanoi College of Fine Arts in 1996 and has since gone on to establish himself as an innovative artist exploring new techniques and ideas. He has exhibited in Vietnam as well as in Japan, Australia, the US and the UK.

Thanh works across a range of different media including painting, installation, performance and film. His installations Mot Con Duong (One Road, 1999), Dong Lua (Rice Field, 1999) and Toi Khong Tin Vao Bat Cu Ai (I Don't Trust Anyone, 2003) have been exhibited in Liverpool, England; and at South Korea's Gwangju Biennial. His works are frequently about the coherence of his inner revolt against oversystemisation and overstratification in life and thought.

Unlike most contemporary Vietnamese artists, Thanh is not afraid or ashamed of telling very intimate stories. In several works, such as Canh Giac (Night Watch, 1999) shown at Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and Me Va Con (Mother and Son, 1999) shown at the Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane, Australia, he explores individual existence within a traditional Vietnamese family, drawing out the individual's attitude towards the self.

The exhibition of Thanh's playing cards may be viewed at the Hanoi College of Fine Arts, 42 Yet Kieu Street, untill Friday. (VNS)

Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper


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