KVT/Mid-autumn Magic and Mystery and the Zen of Chinh Le

KVT/Mid-autumn Magic and Mystery and the Zen of Chinh Le

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……part one…..ZENITH/PUCK

“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.”-Shakespeare/A Midsummer night’s dream

Art Vietnam Gallery has installed a very beautiful exhibition by Nguyen Thi Chinh Le who is one of Vietnam’s most prominent artists. In her mid forties, Chinh Le is a painter in several mediums, a sculptor, a poet, and a philosopher. A type of Renaissance woman.

My opinion piece can’t possibly portray the full extent of all that beauty so I’ll wander its glades with Shakespeare in mind and with a Vietnamese Puck in control.

In this exhibition are her poetry, her bronze sculptures, her ceramic bowls, and 30 of her mysterious mid-autumn night scapes.


First some very applicable text taken from the Gallery blurb, in accord with the artist, before I start Pucking:

Artist Chinh Le, a devout Zen Buddhist, poet and sculptor, pays tribute to the spirituality of this special night when people come together to celebrate the moment when humans, sky and earth combine in harmony.


The artist is known for her philosophical works of art that ponder the meaning of existence and the quest for ultimate freedom. The current exhibition Mid Autumn Night is a banquet of ideas and feelings expressed in two very different mediums, bronze sculpture and works of autumnal nights in oil on canvas.


The exhibition pivots around a body of bronze sculptures.


Poised at the center under a large bronze autumn moon is a Zen Buddhist monk with an expressionless face holding a mask in his hand



It is the Zen philosophy that everything is one, one is everything. The masks perhaps look different but basically they are the same, they are one. All characters/masks are different and also all are the same, all empty like the face of the Master. Distinction only brings misery.


The artist muses, “Life is just like the universe, there are some parts we can see, touch, understand and there are also some different parts that we cannot reach and they remain a mystery in our life forever. And despite that mystery, life is always balanced in both spiritual and physical ways. That balance is what makes life beautiful.



“For you, in my respect, are all the world.
Then how can it be said I am alone
When all the world is here to look on me?”
William Shakespeare-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

On the best of the best mid-autumn nights an orange moon, like an egg yolk in a bowl, or a ripe and golden skinned grapefruit, rides in a cloud clear sky.


On the surface of the moon some people see a rabbit pounding ingredients for moon cakes

But most Vietnamese kids see Cuoi

In legendary times Cuoi’s wife accidentally piddled on a sacred Cay Da- pagoda tree- in their garden and the offended tree began to float into the sky.

Cuoi held onto the roots to try and pull it back and was taken aloft to the moon where the tree took root and flourished.

Now when you look up at a full moon, Cuoi is there resting under the tree waiting for a cloudless night when a pathway back to his earthly home might be seen.

On every mid-autumn night in the best of the best Vietnamese localities all the kids light their lanterns- shaped like stars or fish or just about anything- and parade around village lanes hoping that the path of light they make may be the one that allows Cuoi to escape his imprisonment.


As they parade the kids wear face masks shaped like characters from traditional tales to hide their real identity from angry spirits that may snatch them away and they make noises with ratcheting toys and toy drums to scare those gnarly fingered spirits off.


All safe and sound they head off home and sit with their families under the moon and eat moon cakes with orange yolks in their centers and suck juicy segments of grapefruit and go to bed all moonstruck.


“Here come the lovers, full of joy and mirth.— Joy, gentle friends! joy and fresh days of love accompany your hearts!”

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

“We will meet; and there we may rehearse most
obscenely and courageously’’
– Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream


In the very best of those best Vietnamese places, every mid-autumn night, when the kids are asleep, a magic envelops the deepening night; nights that are perfumed by the heady swirling scent from pearly flowers in hoa sua trees.

Even on mid-autumn nights when the moon is cloud shrouded, or the night is drenched in rain or mist wrapped, a Vietnamese Puck encourages those, not yet abed- the fecund and fertile; the adventurous and mischievous –to put on one of the 12 masks…..



…………..to see through the eyes and emotions of others






and then gambol into the warm fingers of mid-autumnal air














Before the moon wanes and a dawning sun pitches us into a world too real and rushed we steal back our own faces and world smart identities and meditate as we make a cup of tea hoping that the full tea bowl might catch a last image of magic …..


And we hear Puck’s gentle apologies:

“If we have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And I shall restore amends.”
– Shakespeare/A Midsummer night’s dream

For those who want a better insight into Chinh Le’s exhibition have a look at Art Vietnam’s facebook

Or go along to Art Vietnam and enjoy a dose of Zen from a Chin Le Mid-Autumn ceramic bowl. It’s likely that you’ll be smitten.


And those who want to believe, like I do, in Cuoi and who relish in the legends and practices of the Mid-Autumn Full Moon Festival, click onto my 2014 piece about Tet Trung Thu and nostalgia

For those who follow gallerist Suzanne Lecht’s exhibition wardrobe-each one designed by Chula- here’s a glimpse + Diego of Chula + Chinh Le


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.


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