Dong Ho folk paintings regain popularity during Tet

Emilie Charrier proudly displays a Dong Ho folk painting called, “Dam Cuoi Chuot” (Mice’s Wedding) at home for her friends visiting on the occasion of Tet (Lunar New Year).

Popular Đong Hồ folk painting

BAC NINH – Emilie Charrier proudly displays a Dong Ho folk painting called, “Dam Cuoi Chuot” (Mice’s Wedding) at home for her friends visiting on the occasion of Tet (Lunar New Year).

Charrier had bought the painting from the Đong Ho village several days before the big festival.

“I have lived in Hanoi for two years, and I was happy to discover this art form this year, thanks to a friend. He accompanied me to the village, where I was able to buy this beautiful artwork,” she stated.

For the French national and many other foreigners, the Dong Ho paintings are a special cultural feature of Viet Nam.

The Dong Ho village is located on the southern bank of the Duong river in the Song Ho commune of the Thuan Thanh district in Bac Ninh province, more than 30 kilometres to the east of Ha Noi. It is one of the few villages that has been able to preserve the ancient cultural relics of the Kinh Bac area in the Red River Delta of northern Viet Nam.

For a long time, Đong Ho folk paintings were forgotten and the few artisans making them also quit their jobs and turned to making votive papers. However, during recent years, some people in the village have returned to the traditional art form as the simple and natural beauty of Dong Ho paintings has been recognized and has become an indispensable part of people’s daily lives, especially during Tet.

Artisan Nguyễn Đăng Chế shows his Đong Hồ paintings. -Photo

After facing the risk of disappearing, Dong Ho paintings have gained popularity again and the village has even become a tourist destination, which is appealing to both domestic and foreign tourists.

According to Nguyen Nhu Dieu, chairman of the Song Ho People’s Committee, the art of making Dong Ho paintings has existed for centuries. Only three families in the village been able to preserve the art of creating these paintings: the families of Nguyen Dang Che, Nguyen Huu Sam and Tran Nhat Tan

In Che’s family, seven artisans can be found busy creating these paintings, based on various steps, several days before Tet. At his workshop, Chế is also seen working meticulously on every line of the painting entitled, “Ca Chep Trong Trang” (The Fish Looking for the Moon).

“Previously, Dong Ho paintings could only be sold during Tet. During the whole year, the painting can only be sold at six fairs held in December. People actually like buying these paintings throughout the year, but during the period before Tet, there is a surge in the number of clients.

“My workshop welcomes a dozen foreign and domestic tourists groups daily,” Che said.

Che added that his family can make 200 different kinds of paintings, based on various themes that are sold to the tourists on the occasion of Tet.

Original Art Form

He said the Dong Ho paintings are popular for their joyful images that reflect humanitarian values. The paintings are also created with colours made from natural materials.

The woodblock paintings printed on paper that are created from the bark of the do (poonah) tree mainly reflect the aspirations of people for a peaceful, happy and prosperous life.

The printing paper used for the paintings is made from the bark of a tree called “di” (poonah), which is normally grown in the northern mountainous province of Tuyen Quang. It is soaked in water for months and then mixed with the powder of seashells (so diep) and glutinous rice, which is where the paper’s name originates from.

Owing to the texture of seashells and glutinous rice, the paper possesses an exotic and sparkling hard background and is able to retain colours used in the painting.

The paintings usually depict familiar scenes from everyday life. For instance, animals, such as a cow, pig, dog, cat or chicken are depicted a lot in these paintings. Paintings, such as “Catching Coconuts” and “Mice Wedding” in particular, have drawn considerable attention from many domestic and foreign visitors.

Art Investment

During the period of 2014 to 2020, the northern province of Bac Ninh plans to spend VND60 billion dong (US$2.8 million) to retain and develop the local art form of the Dong Ho folk paintings.

The money, drawn from the provincial budget and other sources, will be funnelled into the paintings in Thuan Thanh District. Accordingly, VND2.1 billion (nearly $100,000) will go into restoring and developing the paintings over the next two years. Another VND50 billion ($2.3 million) will be spent on building a centre to conserve and promote art over the next six years.

The rest of the funds will be spent on preparing a dossier for UNESCO that outlines why these folk paintings should be classified as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage.’

In March last year, the craft was recognized as a ‘National Intangible Cultural Heritage.’ – VNS


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