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Vietnam: The Cultural Odyssey of South East Asia

Christine Macguire

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Vietnam is a culturally diversified nation with 54 ethnic groups with multiple customs and traditions. Although Vietnamese culture was strongly influenced by traditional Chinese civilization, the struggle for political independence from China developed a strong sense of national identity in the Vietnamese people. Nearly 100 years of French rule introduced important European elements into the culture of the country, but the Vietnamese still attach great importance to the family and continue to observe rites honoring their ancestors, indicating the persistence of tradition.

The first flourishing of Vietnamese art occurred with the emergence of the Dongson culture on the coast of Annam and Tonkin. The inspiration for the magnificent bronzes produced by the artists of Dongson originated from China: the decorative motifs have clear affinities with earlier Chinese bronzes. At the same time, the exceptional skill of production and decoration argues that these pieces represent among the first and finest of Southeast Asian works of art. The period during which the central Vietnamese kingdom, centered on the Annamite coast was under the Champa rulers saw the ‘golden’ period of the Vietnamese art and architecture. Valuable works of Vietnamese Art comprise of the historic and treasured form of art executed on extravagant, fine and delicate silk. Created by artists including Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu and Vu Cao Dam these pieces of art are pristinely preserved. Lacquer practice has held a major role throughout the history of Vietnamese Art, and particularly so in 20th Century Vietnam, when a new approach, through color and form, was employed to develop this ancestral technique in order to promote it as an aesthete that is unique to Vietnam.

Vietnam has longstanding folk traditions. Techniques and styles are often handed down within families from generation to generation. Vietnamese Art shows a strong Chinese influence. Traditional Buddhist art forms are very much evident on the sculptures and paintings of Vietnamese artists. These art forms are made to complement and enhance traditional practices found in temples, monasteries, centers, hermitages, the home and places of retreat. Contemporary artists may use traditional or contemporary forms separately or in combination e. g. film, sculpture or in painting used together in an installation piece. While there may be a deeply felt spiritual context to the work, it would not necessarily be intended to go in a monastery, center or temple and would not have to be made according to econometric recommendations.

Many contemporary artists also use themes such as impermanence, delusion; interdependence, compassion commonly studied in Buddha dharma, and may feel a link with Buddhist ideas without necessarily calling themselves Buddhists. Contemporary art also assists in viewing the Vietnam War and war experience in general through art. It helps to forge a link between the common man, soldier, art and history. Contemporary Vietnamese art focuses on analyzing how art relates to historical themes and issues, interpreting and understanding art as a tool of communication, synthesizing and assimilating information from different disciplines into demonstrated comprehension, and further developing abstract and critical thinking that can be applied throughout the learning process.

Despite the shortages and censorship of the war years, quite a bit of world literature was carefully translated into Vietnamese and widely distributed gradually. This translated world literature greatly influenced the spiritual life of Vietnam. The small chunk of world literature that was allowed to circulate in Vietnam during the “years of the march towards socialism, " the years of heroic warfare" and the “gloomy immediate post-war years, " had been carefully filtered and wrenched from their original contexts. Efforts of contemporary Vietnam artists have been successful in reviving the exquisite and inimitable elements, not only of erstwhile Vietnam but have also raised some of the present-day humanitarian issues. Vietnamese art has thus taken a stride ahead towards presenting South-East Asia as a cultural patron in the field of global fine arts.

Christine is an expert Internet marketing professional with years of experience in various industries such as: Business, Finance, Real Estate, Web-Design, Health & Medicine and many more. Vietnamese Paintings


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