Saturday, 11 March 2017

Hầu Đồng Ca | Le Thanh Tung/Ngoc Nau

It certainly seems like my photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Vietnam and the subsequent inclusion of Đạo Mẫu (the Mother Goddess religion) in UNESCO's List of Intangible Heritage has ushered an increased awareness and interest in this indigenous faith-based tradition in Vietnam and elsewhere (excluding New York-based Asia Society's shameful and incomprehensible cold shoulder). 

Many local and foreign artists are embracing this wonderful ancient tradition, and some are emerging from the "wilderness" they had been in because of the past disapproval of the Vietnamese government towards it. It took time for this attitude to soften, and Đạo Mẫu is currently no longer under a cloud.

I thought I'd feature two distinct art forms celebrating Đạo Mẫu and Hầu Đồng. The first is an eclectic project by two Vietnamese artists; Le Thanh Tung and Ngoc Nau as per the above short movie of a wireframe of Ngoc dancing in a 3D environment.

The purists and traditionalists might not appreciate it, but I believe if it brings the "new" into the "old", the tradition will grow stronger. It mixes the lovely tradition chau van music/song with a sort of electronic musical track, and the 'dancing' is by Ngoc Nau. Le Thanh Tung is an Art Director who successfully has been working on commercial projects with international brands. Nguyen Hong Ngoc is an artist who combines the use of photography, light and experimental video.

Painting © Tran Tuan Long - Courtesy VN Express International
The other -but much more traditional- is by Hanoi artist Tran Tuan Long, who just unveiled two decades of lacquer paintings depicting the deities and spirit mediums of Đạo Mẫu. VNExpress International newspaper recently featured his work in an nicely written article by Ms Trang Bui Quynh.

I was fascinated to read that Long first stepped in the world of Đạo Mẫu and Hầu Đồng in 1995. In the dark of night, he witnessed a group of mediums quietly offering furtive calls to the Mother Goddess as police and farmers quietly slept.

Three years later, he painted his recollections of the experience on a wooden board. For the next 20 years, mediums in colorful costumes became the protagonists of Long's 26 lacquer paintings, each of which took a month to complete.

I'm looking forward to see the work of more Vietnamese artists celebrating their nation's heritage and indigenous faith, whether in photography, painting, installation and music.