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Sometimes, words simply aren’t enough (May 24, 2005)

Happy endings: Hoang Minh Tuong’s Chi Pheo – Thi No 4, 60x90cm, oil on canvas, gives the artist’s own version of another writer’s well-known short story.
Sunday in the park: Landscapes like Goc Quen (Familiar Corner) by Doan Le, oil on canvas, suggest the lives of characters without depicting them.
Rural loves: Du (Swing) by Hoang Minh Tuong, 50x70cm, oil on canvas.
Unable to express themselves fully in words, four accomplished Vietnamese writers have turned to the medium of painting to find new ways to tell their stories. Nga Son takes a look.

Writers express their ideas and emotions through words, but when they feel trapped by the limitations of the written world they can explore other art forms to discover new means of expressing themselves.

Doan Le, Tran Nhuong, Do Minh Tuan, Hoang Minh Tuong and Nguyen Quang Thieu are examples of writers who have turned to the medium of painting to tell their stories.

Tran Nhuong has been painting for the past ten years and for him his paintings help to fill the holes in his life’s desires that cannot be described with words. His paintings often visualise narratives about the brutality of war. One of his works, Hau Qua Chien Tranh (War Aftermath) depicts a baby with a human face, but its limbs have been deformed due to Agent Orange. Though one may find Nhuong’s paintings to have a sense of poetic tranquillity, the raw wounds of reality seep in.

Fellow writer Hoang Minh Tuong chooses the lighter subject matter of country life in the northern Red River Delta, in particular the love-hate relationship between Chi Pheo and Thi No, two well known characters in Nam Cao’s short story Chi Pheo. They were the poorest people in the village and could be considered the lowest in the social hierarchy. Chi Pheo dreams of an honest living and Thi No of a happy family life. Chi Pheo, an honest man turned gangster who used to work for food and No, born with an ugly face and a forgetful mind, meet and fall in love. But the social code of the village drives them apart and denies them the family that they both long for. In Tuong’s series of Chi Pheo – Thi No, he adds to the literary version, creating a happy ending that is not included in the original. The Viet Nam Feature Film Studio made a film based on Nam Cao short stories, and scenes in the film bear more than a passing resemblance to Tuong’s paintings.

If the rural life depicted in Tuong’s paintings is on the rough side poet Doan Le, known for her lyrical poetry about scenic beauty, adds a graceful and exquisite touch to her artwork. She captures the fragile beauty of nature; of the world she lives in. One of her paintings, I am the Unknown Lady, explores the theme of a woman’s desire to become distant. Another work depicts a peaceful rice field in the background; in the foreground, a tobacco tube leans against the trunk of a papaya tree and a green tea pot rests beside it. No man is present, but the viewer is aware of the sense of relief after a hard days work on the farm.

Among the writers who use the brush as a tool of expression Nguyen Quang Thieu is the youngest. Thieu has had 20 years of writing experience, but as a painter he is a novice who has been painting for just six months. Thieu uses strong, contrasting, colours to reflect the legendary aura of his themes. "My painting is my sorrow, my desire, my dream, and sometimes my memory," Thieu says about his latest endeavour. "I paint the characters in my stories and my poems. I want to see them take form. I paint my most haunting verses," he added.

Commenting on the writers’ paintings, critic Luong Xuan Doan said, "the writers have a very rich and diverse imagination, so they break out and find a new way of expressing themselves." — VNS

Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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