A Point of Departure, a Point of Destination

Natalia Kraevskaia

“Because we just have a limited farmland to work, I have to come here to earn more money to feed my children…We all have to suffer from a hard life, that is the reason to come here to make our living”

“There are six members in our family and my husband and I are breadwinners. Now my children have to live with their grandparents while we two come to Hanoi to make money.”

“Here some people shout at me… When I am at home, no one has such an attitude towards me. It‟s true that “In a different land, even a ten year old kid, I must call him “sir‟”.

These phrases I had copied out from the interviews with the villagers who came to work in Hanoi. The interviews were part of the staggering exhibition “Street vendors” at Hanoi Women Museum at the beginning of 2009. I at once remembered these bitter words when I saw a new series of Do Tuan Anh‟s paintings in his studio. Coincidentally, both the documentary exhibition which deals with sociological issues of the big city life, and the art of Do Tuan Anh which examines the tense collision of city and countryside –have a similar effect on the viewer. Showing a person in the emotional context of
unprecedented social transformation, they accentuate all the consequences of his dislocation and evoke the feeling that we all are unforgivably indifferent to the destiny of newcomers to our urban society.

Actually, a few years before, the artist had created another series of paintings introducing the different occupations of the village migrants to the city drawing out the images of a shoe-shine boy or a tea-seller, of a street barber or an old beggar. The artist has investigated then a transformation of identity of those people who moved to the capital by the force of circumstances, such as poverty, unemployment and lack of future. A simple distinct iconography of that series, the direct reference to the way which the strangers use to conquest the city space, had been replaced in the recent paintings by the
artist with attempts to create a multilayered urban world with its spread network of problems.

His huge impressive oils consist of the fragments and fractions symbolizing the puzzled life of the contemporary city and the clash between new economics and Vietnamese traditional society structure. Thus the figures of the peasants in their original
environment, busy with their usual work on the fields, and of the migrants to the frightening world of new industries and technologies are the recurring motivs in most of Tuan Anh‟s complex paintings.

The main concern of the artist is the displacement of former peasants in the urban environment: the artist places them in a perplexing labyrinth from which there is no exit. While previously they were carrying the baskets with a crop, now they carry the heavy machines – the same routine and the same hardship. The artist is aware not only of geographic but of social dislocation. The weakening of ties with one‟s own roots is not replaced by new values: his personae do not know for certain where they belong.The social awareness of the artist parallels his deep concern with the ecological problems in the big city. One of his paintings, which is like a complicated collage of all possible sources of pollution, demonstrates that not only the urban area is under threat –the countryside is no longer autonomous territory and the city like a giant monster poisons all the space around. A similar topic is discussed in the more minimalist monochrome triptych which utilizes another technique –ink on paper. There the artist symbolically points to such ecological aspects as noise, smell and unhealthy food.

On one hand, like in some new sociological theories of urbanism, Tuan Anh interprets the city as a disease, while on the other, he expresses a hope for the solution of contradictions between city and village. From the opposite corners of one his canvas a villager and a prosperous city businessman stretch out their hands to the same spot, to one meeting point: one dreaming about city life, another wishing to be nearer to nature.Casting the contrasting characters the artist inserts his own subjectivity into the problems which he investigates and interprets. By his bright loudly speaking colors and sharp silhouettes, by his symbolic system of references he emphasizes not only general social issues of the city, but also tells his personal history. Placing his emotions into profound artistic analyses of the city/village constant conflict, Tuan Anh confesses that though his own point of departure was also a village, he is not sure if he has arrived at the right destination. His deep reflection on this dramatic journey is expressed in his simple but highly poetic artist statement for his previous work, an installation called “The box of my future memories”: “Myself in the past: A boy from the countryside. The capital Hanoi? My only knowledge about Hanoi came from tv, the newspapers, and my schoolbooks. I dreamed about the Hoan Kiem Lake + Turtle Pagoda, The Huc bridge + Ngoc Son Temple, Ba Dinh Square + Uncle Ho’s tomb, the Citadel + the Flag Tower, the Westlake + the Tran Quoc Pagoda.Myself today: A young man from the countryside. Working + living in the capital Hanoi!
My dream became true => but the beauty of this dream faded away. I am questioning myself: why? I reply to myself: dream => <= reality = not the same. I would like to start again with a beautiful dream about the capital. Probably my dream will not  become true => in future this dream shall stay as a beautiful memory”.

Recalling his memories, mixing his personal experiences and that of the others Do Tuan Anh weaves a broad patchwork of city and countryside scenes in his effort to awaken social conscience. Whatever he speaks about: contemporary consumerism or agony of industrial megapolis, duplicitous roles of city‟s inhabitants hidden under masks or hopelessness to adapt to the urban lifestyle, the artist poses numerous questions about the hybrid culture of city, about transformation of traditional identity, about displacement and about people‟s longings and dreams. He invites the viewers of this exhibition to share
the continuous flow of his artistic reflections.

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