​Filmmaker expresses concern over mural village trend in Vietnam

‘There is only a thin line between an artwork and a disaster’

Zebra, elephant and cherry blossom are far from perfect depiction of the village.

While more and more mural villages have appeared in Vietnam, a local movie director has expressed concern over the trend, warning that there is only a thin line between an artwork and a disaster. 

Some of the new mural villages in Vietnam “lack educational and cultural value,” documentary film director Doan Hong Le said in a piece sent to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Besides the well-known Tam Thanh village in the central province of Quang Nam, the Thanh Thuy village in the nearby Quang Ngai Province has also been redecorated into a mural village as a part of a VND1.5 billion (US$66,079) program to turn the neighborhood into a tourist destination.

Thanh Thuy village was decorated with colorful fresco paintings drawn directly on the walls by a group of artists from Ho Chi Minh City, hoping to lure more tourists to the Ganh Yen area, where the village lies.

A few of the 3D paintings were drawn to raise awareness of ocean environment protection, and some others depict the sea floor and beautiful scenarios of Ganh Yen.

“However, many other murals are just random simple paintings oddly similar to those in children’s books,” Le commented.

The filmmaker also criticized that the artworks at Thanh Thuy had been done in a hasty manner.

Sau, a villager, said villagers were only informed one day before the artists from Ho Chi Minh City came to begin their project.

“The painters did not have any time to get to know the area and its culture and people, so the paintings did not reflect the true colors of the village,” the filmmaker said.

While most of the villagers are fishermen and farmers, not a single painting of men fishing or women growing shallots can be seen in the village, Le continued.

“Instead, the village received pictures of elephants, zebras, tigers, bears, dragons, rivers with cherry blossoms and a French-styled gate, none of which seem appropriate in the simple and natural scenarios of Thanh Thuy fishing village,” she elaborated.

Cultural value is more important

Some villagers are more than happy with the mural renovation.

Duyen, who runs a small café in Thu Thuy, said a number of young people have come to the village and take selfie with the paintings since it became a mural village.

During weekends, her coffee shop would be packed with customers, Duyen happily said.

Many other people stopped going fishing and started making living by opening coffee shops and parking lots.

Even though these people seem delighted to make a living with a stable income thanks to the city’s renovation, director Le still strongly disagrees.

Le believes that people like Duyen are only “collecting coins”. On the other hand, there are many other options that will help the villagers increase their income significantly while preserving the traditions. 

Le also believes in the importance of tourists falling in love with the locals rather than just paint randomly to turn a mural village into a disaster.

“Consequently, it is important for artists to understand and feel the cultural values so that they can put it in their artwork and make any observer fall in love with the city,” she said.

Like any other tourism attraction, mural paintings attract tourists with its cultural significance.

Le took the ancient town of Malacca in Malaysia as “a perfect example” for this.

In Malacca, wall paintings on local houses were all designed with the concept “Connect past and present” by a group of Malaysian artists. “These paintings are mostly about Malaysian traditional customs such as forging, carpentry, and traditional games and thus provide tourists with the insight to the Malaysian culture,” Le said.

“This culture is also promoted on souvenirs such as T-shirts, children’s toys and wooden statuaries.”

In 2016, Tam Thanh village in Quang Nam was turned into a mural village thanks to lively colorful pictures depicting villagers’ ordinary lives drawn by South Korean artists. The village soon attracted many tourists. Since then, many villages started decorating streets with fresco paintings on the walls.

Besides Tam Thanh, there is also Tam Hai mural village in Quang Nam.

In Quang Ngai, there are also two mural villages: Ly Son and Thanh Thuy.

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