Dang Duong Bang – an example of a beautiful combination of tradition and modern in Vietnamese contemporary art.

The sound of silennce No. 11 (120×120 cm) Tempera

Prof. Dr, John Kleinen,

Professor in History and Art,

Specialist in Vietnamese History and Vietnamese art,

Faculty of History, University of Amsterdam,

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Not so long ago one could hear the conception that modern plastic arts was a typical Western phenomenon, an area very well suited for art critics and art-history, art exhibits and art museums. Everything that fell outside the range of this vision could be put on the large heap of non-western art and belonged to the domain of anthropologists and museums of ethnology.

That I, on request of ‘Gallery Amber’, may open the exhibition of the Vietnamese painter Dang Duong Bang must make you a little suspicious. An anthropologist opening an exhibition of a non-western artist, explaining that painting in Vietnam started as a branch of French painting and subsequently left on its own. Artists all learned what impressionism, expressionism and cubism is – the in 1925 established Ecole de Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine explicitly mentioned that – but it lasted until the middle of the eighties, we realised that our image of this development was only very one-sided.

Sometimes it is added that one hasn’t progressed much. The artists are still attached to the language of the culture they came from. But with a bit of luck they can break out of this with the help of exhibitions, museums, art critics and followed by a profiting art market. By now we know that this depiction is no longer accurate and that modern art can no longer be referred to as a matter that is “only of importance to the Western world”.

I must thank the owners of ‘Gallery Amber’ for the fact that they have helped forming this understanding by continuously confronting Eastern and Western art. In one month you will see a collection of art works of many art works made by artists from Leiden selected by Bang in the church that has given the name to ‘Gallery Amber’. Herewith will Amber celebrate its ten-year anniversary?

Who is Bang; it is his work that we are discussing after all. His background as a member of a well-renounced family was more of a disadvantage than an advantage: his interest for an education in arts and a career in dancing were not appreciated in the Hanoi of the sixties. The faculty biology of the University of Hanoi and the Pasteur Institute became places during the Vietnam War where he could develop to be a scientist who came to Leiden ten years ago to write his thesis on molecular genetics. Currently, he is employed as a biochemist in a Danish Veterinary Institute.

Without knowing we must have met: In 1988, I attended one of the first exhibitions dedicated to the vilified painter Bui Xuan Phai. If I am not mistaken in the now famous gallery number 7 in the Hang Khay street in Hanoi. Only recently, I heard that Bang was one of person who organised this exhibition. The organisation of such an exposition at that time that required a lot of courage. Since Phai – a painter became famous in Vietnam as well as in many other countries for his paintings of the old streets of Hanoi – belonged to the generation artists who in the Vietnamese variant of ‘Laat Honderd Bloemen Bloeien’ affair – the Nhan Van Giai Pham affair – in the middle of the fifties fell victim to the Vietnamese culture crazes.

When I mention the name Bui-Xuan-Phai, I must remember to mention the name of Nguyen-Tu- Nghiem, the man who was no one else giving Vietnamese arts its roots. Bang was lucky that one of his uncles had similar ideas about the rich Vietnamese ethnical art as Nghiem, depictions of communal houses and the Dong Ho wood cutting-prints. From his tenth birthday he worked in the studio of his uncle, Nguyen-Tien-Trung. Later, when he worked at the Pasteur Institute, Bang was confronted with the entire fine de fleur of modern Vietnamese art. The dissidents of those times became the celebrities of today. That says a lot about the flexibility of the artistic climate in Vietnam.

Bang works with oil paint, Chinese ink, and lacquer paint. On canvass, wood, paper and silk. His designs, as you can see for yourself, are varied. Red, a colour that was associated with prosperity, luck, warmth, and intensity in Vietnamese mentality therefore you can see “Red” in mostly demonstrated in village gatherings or in other official or festival ceremonies.

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