The artist is represented three times. Once in the present by the buffalo, symbol of traditional rural work ethics and steadiness, as he attempt to preserve memories of the past before they are crushed or stolen. Again by the child in the past who plays happily in the waters of the village pond unaware of the changes that will one day remove or change this place of memory. The waters are red, perhaps to symbolize blood, perhaps communism, and definitely to presage imminent change or action as it used to do when it flooded a scene in an old Vietnamese movie.
In a corner he is seen in his future persona of observer and recorder.
On one side of the double prowed boat that could represent the nation, is one thousand years of Confucian tradition. The other side is one hundred years of western intervention and changing culture. Each side is symbolized by one of its super heroes. Rural images dominate the raft because village for so long been synonymous with the culture and economic lifestyle of the people even though it is rapidly becoming a modern cliché.
From the periphery of the canvas arms of influence and intervention proffer ideologies that have tried to take root and endure.
The teeth chomping on a chicken’s neck could comment on imposed famines, wars and regimes that have, historically, made the populace intended victims.
The artist is part of a generation that has seen the disintegration and possible extinction of traditional aspects of life and he shows himself confused and depressed.
The victor of tug of war between the two sections of the boat, though not implied, is obvious.
The canvas is filled with text from folklore and Vietnamese will immediately recognize many of the fragments that are connected to prosperous times. Paths through the paddies and fields (or the mysteries of life) are delineated.
Various facets of the artist are represented. The young boy is him in childhood meditating on happiness. The brain and the eye represent meditations about the past.The large head is of the artist’s father; ripe with wisdom.
Other symbols are potent. The red rose for happiness; the cow for childhood friendship and loyalty: the cloud for freedom and purity; the coconut palm for life; the figure in the bowl of rice is the peasantry paying for rice with their own blood throughout history.
The last canvas completed and the artist’s favorite because he says it is about simple memory and it has far less of the hidden meanings that invigorate and conundrum the others. It is also the most minimally abstract, deliberately so, and leads into the color field style of his next series.
Self is represented by the head floating in the river of memory. It is a vessel for rice, the staff of life, that is growing lushly in soil from paddies that is symbolically rich with the oral tales handed down from his ancestors.
The sun has just set behind the mountains, and a rising full moon is reflected. Not far off in the dusk glows his home fire, beckoning, welcoming.
A circle of memory is complete though the slash of light diagonally across the middle of the canvas leads to fascinating conjecture-which I leave to you.
Perfumes of Yesteryear:
|Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.|