A project calling for local artists to donate paintings to decorate Vietnamese embassies overseas has been answered one month after launch, though some painters disapprove of the ‘charity’ element.
The project, titled “Vietnamese Fine Arts and Cultural Diplomacy,” was initiated on March 12 at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hanoi, attended by foreign minister Pham Binh Minh and diplomat Pham Sanh Chau.
One month on, the program has received 68 paintings from 31 artists, the project managers announced at a ceremony in Hanoi last week.
Besides the Vietnamese embassies, the artworks will also be used for decoration at Vietnam’s consulate and diplomatic headquarters in other countries.
Paintings as cultural ambassadors
The project’s founder, Dao Thi Lien Huong, head of public relations at the Association of Universities and Colleges Vietnam, found it an issue that most Vietnamese embassies could not afford paintings to decorate their headquarters.
Whenever a working delegation from Vietnam visits an embassy, they would bring some needle paintings as gifts, which would then be used as temporary wall decorations.
Huong said these handcrafted products should not take the role of ‘cultural ambassador,’ introducing Vietnamese fine art to the world.
During a charity trip with teachers of the Hanoi Fine Arts University, Huong told them of her dream to have paintings donated to Vietnamese diplomatic offices around the world.
“The fine arts teachers have backed my idea with great enthusiasm,” Huong said.
“I then contacted the Vietnamese embassies to see if they supported the project, and 31 of them eventually agreed to join.”
Huong said her project aims at raising enough paintings to make ten ‘beautifully decorated’ embassies.
“We will rely on this initial success to seek government support to expand the project to all 101 embassies and consulates of Vietnam around the world,” Huong said.
Once hung in a Vietnamese embassy, Huong believes the paintings will not just be ornamental, but also a diplomatic channel to showcase Vietnamese fine art to international friends.
“In other countries, there is always a mutual collection of paintings,” Huong said.
“When an ambassador is assigned to work in a new country, he will take some artworks from that collection with him, and return them once his term ends.”
In Vietnam, there is one such collection but it is never used due to a lack of cooperation between the foreign and culture ministries, Huong added.
Donate or sell?
While some artists have happily given away their works, others, such as Tran Thao Hien, Dang Tien and Nguyen Thi Hien, said one should not think that “art is free.”
In opinions expressed on fine arts forums and their personal Facebook pages, these artists said asking for donations of art is an act of disrespect to the talent and creativity of the painters.
According to these artists, if the embassies believe it is essential to have great Vietnamese paintings on display at their venues, they should create a fund to buy the artworks, instead of calling for donations.
Painter Nguyen Thanh Binh said a foreign ministry-backed project should not run like a charity campaign.
“If the government is not financially able to buy the paintings, we should allow the private sector to contribute,” he said.
Still, for those enthusiastic supporters of the project, giving away their art means they are contributing to the country.
“I found this project a good one as Vietnamese paintings had never been promoted at overseas embassies before,” artist Nguyen Van Duc said.
The Hanoi painter has himself gifted three paintings to the project besides calling on his friends to take part as well.
Vu Dung, an artist based in Ho Chi Minh City, has given away as many as nine paintings to the project and even covered the transportation costs for them to reach Hanoi.
“I simply think that I should do what I can to contribute to the country,” he said, adding that his contribution is nothing compared to soldiers who are protecting the national borders and sovereignty.
Dung also believes that it is a win-win game for both the embassies and the artists.
“The paintings help beautify the embassies, and at the same time, spread the reputation of the painters,” he said.
Other insiders are concerned that poor quality paintings will be donated, reducing the quality of the program.
For this particular concern, Huong said a panel of prestigious artists will be formed to appraise the donated artworks before sending them to the embassies.