Wednesday, 07/02/2018 11:20

Calligraphy on show at art museum

Viet Nam News

A calligraphy exhibition is being held at the Viet Nam Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition displays about 44 calligraphy works in different styles by four calligraphers Nguyen Quang Thang; Pham Van Tuan, Nguyen Van Thanh and Tran Trong Duong. They are working at the Institute of Han-Nom Studies.

Culture Vulture interviews Pham Van Tuan, a PhD in literature and Buddhism, about the development of calligraphy in Viet Nam.


Could you discuss trends in calligraphy in Viet Nam in recent years?

There are three kinds of calligraphy in Viet Nam: traditional calligraphy, avant-garde calligraphy and Vietnamese romanised character calligraphy. Both traditional and avant-garde calligraphy are based on Han (Han Chinese script) and Nom characters. Calligraphy comes from China and it later has been seen as a kind of art in Viet Nam, South Korea and Japan. Vietnamese romanised character calligraphy has been formed in dozens years from Viet Nam, south to the north.

Avant-garde calligraphy is the latest one. It has been formed in the last ten years and developed in Ha Noi. Avant-garde calligraphy is inspired by the beauty, heritage and emotion of Nom characters. It also combines philosophy and the western art trends.

The three kinds of calligraphy have been developing in accordance with each period of history and meet the society’s demands. When spring comes at Tet (Lunar New Year), we see many calligraphy works hanging on the wall in Van Mieu (Literature Temple) and Van Lake.


The calligraphy exhibition is held in Viet Nam Museum of Fine Arts for the first time. Is this a milestone of calligraphy’s development?

Calligraphy has been up and down throughout its thousand-year history. At the end of 20th century, calligraphy revitalized again. A few families also display calligraphy works in their houses. From the beginning of 21st century, calligraphy exhibitions have been held in Van Mieu to stimulate avant-garde calligraphy. Avant-garde works have appeared at studios and galleries and exhibited abroad as well. Western museums and collectors began to pay attention to Vietnamese calligraphy works.

Avant-garde calligraphers such as Le Quoc Viet and Nguyen Quang Thang have had exhibitions in the US, Hong Kong and Taiwan to popularise Vietnamese calligraphy.

Actually, there is was an exhibition of traditional calligraphy at the Viet Nam Museum of Fine Arts one or two years ago. However, this is the first time avant-garde calligraphy works are being displayed at the museum. It is co-held by the museum and Institute of Han-Nom Studies on the celebration of Lunar New Year.

The exhibition is held thanks to great efforts of groups of modern calligraphers and marks calligraphy development in modern society. I think calligraphy has existed with other art genres in Viet Nam and is closely related to painting.


What is the difference between calligraphy in the past and today?

In the Le dynasty in the 15th century, there were many calligraphers who were selected to write royal documents and text. After 1945, Han and Nom characters were no longer used in Viet Nam. It means that people didn’t use quill pen to write.

Calligraphy was revived at the beginning of the 21st century. It took time for calligraphy to be displayed in galleries. It is not only a process to preserve and develop traditional cultural values but also to have interactions with modern society in Viet Nam and in other countries.


Is calligraphy a kind of art genre?

Old conceptions said that both calligraphy and painting are from the same origin. Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese have many of the same materials such as quill pens, Chinese-ink, do (poonah) and shunzhi paper to draw calligraphy and watercolour paintings. Their skills are almost the same.

The Chinese have selected and kept thousands of calligraphy works. But we don’t.

A Vietnamese saying goes that first is character, second is painting, third is pottery and fourth is wood.


Who are calligraphers and how do people receive calligraphy works?

Global integration has helped Viet Nam to open every aspect of life such as economy, society and culture. When the economy grows, culture will follow. Calligraphy is a kind of art. Peole who know Han and Nom scripts can be calligraphers if they like. Calligraphers do not need to be an artist or researcher.

However, many calligraphers are knowledgeable about traditional culture, literature and society. Their works are academic and quite distinctive from other calligraphers. One cannot compare calligraphy with other art genres and painting in particular because calligraphy is younger. Furthermore, calligraphy lovers are selective.


What is the most difficult aspect to preserve and develop calligraphy?

Each art genre needs to adapt itself to the society. It also needs to be accepted by the society. It needs the policies and mechanisms of the State to popularise calligraphy art. Honouring traditional cultural values is to create an environment for calligraphy to develop. Proper policies on economics, culture and society’s development will promote traditional art genres and calligraphy in particular.

At present, many centres and clubs are held to teach calligraphy. It is good sign for calligraphy’s development but calligraphers’ levels are also different. — VNS

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