Motherland

The Pond
Dimension: 240×85(cm)
Oil on linen – 2011
Do Tuan Anh

I remember a short story “Chi Yen” (Sister Yen) from the writer Ho Dzenh, he writes: “Oh, Vietnam! I bow towards this country, on the trails of the paddy, where I can smell the earth, because I drink the water and speak the language of this country; because I deeply love this country even deeper than my religious belief. On the land filled with the conciseness of the quintescence of literature and historic achievement, I am still engraved with my beloved people of the old days and one of them is Sister Yen” (1). Sometimes I ask myself if this deep feeling towards the motherland only comes from people leaving their native countries who have already left their soul with the villages’ bamboo and I wonder how that feeling differs among different people. All literary or art works perhaps contains part of such memories. To go away from the personal childhood memories was initially probably to look for life experiences in a totally new place, or right in the place where one was born and grew up to affirm something of the growing-up age with the whole eagerness. However, time goes by and on the path of each life lesson – a long road we go until one man becomes really mature when he sees his own eyes in his dear child.

Artist Do Tuan Anh once shared with me this feeling when we talked about his new work: “Before having my child, I felt that I was the only one who could see myself but since my child is born, that has changed. My personal factors have been transferred partly to my child, like in the “I wish” series I am working on. But what does happiness mean?”. “City light” is one of the first pictures, belonging to the “I wish” series and those pictures are the most memorable to me. I find from the pictures the image of children via the thoughts of adults. The children in those pictures are happy despite their parents’ busy work and wonder about the fact that people call their names and their parents’ names and people participate in new adventures of the child in their journeys to find out about themselves. Children are innocent and like a mirror to reflect all emotional and spiritual things. To them, busy city life rhythms are like a game or coulorful strange-looking toys.

This is one part of their first perception of their motherland. As history and culture keep changing, sometimes you perceive things become strange in your living place, or you may find it psychologically difficult to adapt to the place where you grew up. Life is a long process of self-destruction and compromise. Artist Do Tuan Anh continues: “In 2001, I started my job”. I still remember at that time Tuan Anh was drawing the life of working people in the city, not life in the countryside or any other localities. In the beginning, Tuan Anh only painted about his observed hardships in the city. After “Streetlife” up to“Oh! City” (2) were completed in 2009, Thomas Ulbricht – the director of Studio Thọ Gallery commented that: “The artist was a peasant right in his thoughts, which contains honest points of view…” Maybe this is the most valuable thing I see from this series. After “Oh! City”, I see a good sign in the fact that Tuan Anh made comprehensive progress into a “conceptual demonstration” style as Thomas Ulbricht said; his style became clearer and countryside images appeared more often in his
paintings. His subject was no longer about peasants going to the city but instead of that, In the present series, Tuan Anh starts step-by-step to approach the psychological side, while the personal side slowly withdraws. The “conceptual demonstration” decreases; characters in the picture participate in telling stories or they have their own different layers of meaning and become independent from the contents of the pictures, or at least less connected, not any more deeply involved in the contents of the picture. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter (3) are not considerably important; neither is the appearance of children in the picture. In compensation, Tuan Anh pays more attention to review his personal psychology and turns back to where he had started. Perhaps maturity is such a process. Love for the motherland, or motherland aspects occur when you are far away to look back or you are in a far distance; that is personalization. The concept of unconsciousness in the working process is like leaving home and then returning home;concerns in the city are like the covering fog layer. At first, you would notice vehicles, houses and many other things in the sparkling city and it would take you longer to realize motherland is nothing else but the place where you were born. I am not so sure, but for those having left their motherland behind, or for those working as painters, the process of going far away is also the process of returning closer. The motherland and home nation characteristics will appear in that process. It reminds me of the song called “The Song of Love” (4) composed by Pham Duy which begins like this:
“I have loved my nation since I was born, my dear!
The gentle mother sings her child to sleep with far-away words
Kumbayah! Forever singing voice.
The name of my country! Fourthousand years filled with smiles and tears.
Crying and smiling to the fate of the country.
The name of my country! I have heard the voice of my mother since I was
born.
One thousand years have been the sound in my heart…”

I think it is difficult to find a better song about motherland than the song composed by Pham Duy. But this may not be important because your love for your country appearsnaturally as early morning dew and will gradually penetrate into your skin and flesh. There will come a time when you want to “go home”. That is the way Tuan Anh surveys the psychology: subjects in the painting talk for themselves. Instead of the trial to explain them or zooming into miniscule parts of the main ideas, the pictures have new contents and colours in a simplified way, but still tell their stories. The countryside is the place
where the artist started many years ago but also the place which he chose for “I wish” as a way for him to come back to it. Some Vietnamese artists such as Nguyen Van Cuong or Nguyen Minh Thanh use Pop-Art-style methods with a peasant’s spirit. They do not emphasize the intention of the story but they limit the story peculiar to a certain locality with images of labourers in the rural areas with visual symbolism to create conflicts in the stories. However, Do Tuan Anh solves it with many layers of images to create more meanings and less “localism”. The farmers in the stories, once leaving the villages’
bamboo, have no longer conical hats or brown clothes but instead jeans, caps… I would like to stress that the artist – in his hidden emotions – always would like to return to the villages’ bamboo, a little bit puzzled about the remaining “purity” in the psychological life of the artist or in the era of the artist. The last pictures of the“I wish…” series are
named “Native land (1 and 2)”. I like this name, because “Native land” is like “Motherland”. These things have been unhidden from the vague dew layers as mentioned in the beginning part of this article. But in terms of the appearance, perhaps
they are indeed more vague as when you look at yourself in an old mirror. The maker of “I wish” probably did not intend to go to that end but it is multi-sided and loses personal factors when showing contents of “conceptual illustration”. But obviously the personal feeling appears most sufficient; if trying to observe it, we will see it rising from the afternoon cooking fire in any Northern rural area you have experienced in Vietnam.

02 Nov 2010

Ha Manh Thang

(1) Hồ Dzếnh, “The old horizon”, December 1939
(2) “Oh! City”, solo exhibition at Studio Thọ Gallery 2009
(3) traditionally represented as plum tree, bamboo, chrysantemum
and pine tree
(4) ”The song of love”, Phạm Duy, 1952

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