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Vietnamese artists go against the grain (September 12, 2005)

Minimalist painter Le Thiet Cuong, along with several other artists, has an exhibition opening this Friday devoted to one of Viet Nam’s most famous symbols: rice. Nguyen My Ha reports.

Growing up eating rice, painter Le Thiet Cuong would be like anybody else raised in a wet rice culture. Inspired by the poem Hat Gao Lang Ta (Our Village Rice) by Tran Dang Khoa, however, Cuong has taken his devotion to the grain to a new level in a multimedia installation art exhibit. Poet Tran Dang Khoa, musician Vu Nhat Tan, photographers Tran Quoc Khanh and Duong Minh Long joined with Cuong in the highly original event to honour the staple source of life in Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cultures. Known in English simply as rice, the grain has different names in Vietnamese that correspond to different stages of its existence, such as thoc (unhusked), gao (husked), com (steamed rice) and com (husked fried young rice).

Inner Sanctum: Why did you choose hat gao (the rice grain) for a theme?

Because I wanted to use the small to reveal the big. Rice is a vital part of Viet Nam and of Southeast Asia. In this country, 80 per cent of more than 80 million people are involved in the process of making rice.

It works with my minimalist concept in art. I use minimal means of expression to deliver my message.

Inner Sanctum: How did you come up with the idea?

In December 1972, I was a third-grade pupil and evacuated in Binh Da (Ha Tay Province). I often heard a children’s choir singing an adapted form of the poem on the radio. Years later, I bought Tran Dang Khoa’s Goc San va Khoang Troi (A Front Yard Corner and A Piece of Sky) – a collection of poems he wrote as a child poetry prodigy in the 1960s.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think of the proverb, "Behind the sweet fragrant rice lies innumerable pains and hardships"?

I’m not trying to convey that message. It’s the viewers’ opinion. I’m only presenting the shapes and sizes – the visual perspectives of the rice grain. In this exhibition, we present the rice grain in

Inner Sanctum: Do you eat rice everyday?

I can’t live a day without cooked rice. When I go away and miss a meal, our maid knows the next meal I have at home should be steamed rice. — VNS

*Hat Gao, The Grain of Rice, opens 5.30pm from Friday, September 16 to 26, Thang Long Gallery, 41 Hang Gai Street, Ha Noi

Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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