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Vietnam War paintings show the view from the North

A selection of Vietnamese artworks from the collection of The British Museum, portraying behind-the-scenes stories of the Vietnam War, will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (February 27) to May 2.

Featuring 122 works created during the war, "Vietnam Behind the Lines: Images from the War 1065-1975" presents an aspect of the conflict rarely seen - the view from the North. The exhibition also gives art lovers a glimpse of an extraordinary time in a remarkable country through the eyes of the Vietnamese artists.

Speaking at today's (February 26) opening ceremony of the exhibition, the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Miss Choi Suk-kuen, said the works were a vivid reminder of the value of peace.

"Time has passed and memories of the subjects in these paintings have moved into the shadow of history. Yet, revisiting these images reminds us that the happiness and peace that we are enjoying have to be appreciated and nurtured," Miss Choi said.

"The presentation of this exhibition is symbolic of our efforts to get to know our Asian neighbours better and to promote cultural exchange and understanding within the region."

The Vietnam War, one of the most important events of the 20th century, consumed a quarter of a century, from the 1950s to the middle 1970s. It involved removal of the old colonial authority of the French and, ultimately, defeat of the forces of the United States at the hands of the military of North Vietnam. During that time, a number of Vietnamese artists chose to speak out through their art.

Most of the wartime artists were graduates of the Fine Arts College in Hanoi. Both the French colonial regime and Sino-Soviet communism left their mark on these artists, whose works reveal these two starkly contrasting styles.

Initially, the Fine Arts College was directed and staffed by French painters, who taught painting of the impressionist school. Vietnamese artists were also encouraged to use local materials, such as lacquer, silk, "do" paper and "thi" wood from the village of Buoi, to create colonial works. Art of this period has been described as "poetic realist" and is characterised by natural subjects, such as people, landscapes and social scenes in Vietnam. Later on, the college became a school devoted to "socialist realism" following the models of Beijing and Moscow. In other words, art was created to promote socialism and to serve the people. Subjects included agricultural reforms, industrialisation, anti-colonialism and heroic images of Ho Chi Minh.

North Vietnamese artists of this period were invariably cadres paid by the government, which also provided their materials. Painting under the official propaganda banner, these artists saw it as their duty to educate the people and to heighten their sense of patriotism. These artists also had a mission to record history. So they also depicted the lives of the servicemen and women as well as civilians behind the lines in documentary works that were presented in national exhibitions with the intention of boosting the morale of the military.

The works were all created between 1965 and 1975 by North Vietnamese artists and are divided into five categories: official propaganda, communications and life at base camp, battle and the new role of women, portraits, agriculture and industry. Combining traditional and contemporary techniques, the works reveal a diverse range of media, including hand-painted posters, paintings on rice paper, watercolour paintings, pen and ink sketches, crayon and chalk drawings, ink paintings, acrylics on cardboard and printed compositions.

The exhibition is presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Asia Society, and organised by the Museum of Art, The British Museum and the Asia Society.

To coincide with the exhibition, a lecture of the same title will be held this Saturday (February 28) at 2.30pm. Collector Mrs Thu Stern will discuss the works and artists featured in the exhibition. Professor Nguyen, one of the artists included in the exhibition, will discuss his works and his experiences during the war. A series of video programmes entitled "Discovering Vietnam" will also be screened each Wednesday and Sunday from February 29 to March 31 at 4.45pm. The films will take viewers from the dark days of the war through to modern-day Vietnam after half a century of development. All in English, the talk and films will be held in the Lecture Hall of the Museum of Art. Admission is free and 150 seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

An illustrated catalogue published by The British Museum is also available for sale at the Museum of Art's gift shop.

The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm daily and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website at .

Ends/Thursday, February 26, 2004
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