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Social Issues Of Globalization In Vietnam Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4216 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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David Hockney stated "All art is contemporary if it's alive, and if it's not alive, what's the point of it?" ;The most exciting factor about contemporary art is that it's alive. It represents our society, our life and our time. What is contemporary art then? Contemporary art describes the form of art which is presents in the relatively recent past. The date of origin for the contemporary art varies in relation to contemporary art museum. However, it was usually placed in late 1900. Contemporary art is much more socially conscious than any other previous art forms have been. It deals with the one issue or another such as feminism, AIDS, Multiculturalism, and Globalization. Vietnamese contemporary art isn't an exception. Many contemporary artists are trying to speak their voice for negative and positive side of social issues in Hanoi. Rapid globalization and its consequences on Vietnamese people are one of the famous subjects to be considered because it of its strong influence in Vietnamese society. Therefore it has effects on contemporary art as well. Although there is more freedom in Vietnamese contemporary art than in the past, not a lot of Contemporary artists in Vietnam are including message such as philosophical questions or social issues in their artworks. Still, there were a small number of artists such as Pham Ngoc Duoc, Nguyen Thuy Hang who had strong message in their artwork.

Throughout this essay observation of the way Vietnamese artist express themselves about globalization in Vietnam will be done. Yet, understanding of globalization in Vietnamese society and contemporary art in Vietnam is necessary for deeper understanding

The Social issues of globalization in Vietnam

Globalization was very necessary for Vietnam in the past. After experiencing war and isolation for many decades, Vietnam desperately needed development. Today, with huge change and growth caused by globalization, it has become one of the most rapid developing countries in Asia. At first, globalization was just known as a way to boost the economies rapidly because of all the positive factors that globalization creates such as, improvement in technology and international transportation, increase in national income and creation of outsourcing concept. Nonetheless, in more recent years, globalization hasn't been considered very positive due to the some side effects it created. For instance, Spread of deadly disease such as HIV/AID and increase in terrorism, human trafficking, job insecurity created by higher competitiveness for business have been considered as negative factors of globalization in Vietnamese society.

Although there are many economical, environmental shortcoming of globalization, social effects give impact on people the most. Thus, it is easier for the artists to observe globalization in a social content. There are three main social matters of globalization in our society that have been mentioned frequently in contemporary art.

First is the loss in identification of personal trait due to cultural confusion brought by globalization. With easier contact between the countries caused by development of ICT or long distance transpiration caused by globalization, there are less cultural differences between the countries. This can reduce the misunderstanding or lack of communication but it also threatens the cultural diversity of a country. Loss in traditional culture and superiority of western culture is formed by this change [2] .

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It is easy to recognize that traditional life style in Hanoi is changing dramatically, even to an eye of a foreigner like me. Traditional ceremony such as wedding and funeral are becoming simpler and more western, traditional food is changing into western fast-food style since fast food franchisor such as KFC is becoming more common. Even family life style is changing. Previously, a typical Vietnamese family would have three generation; grandparent, parents and children, but now only two generation remains together; parents and their child. This kind of change can often result lost in identification of certain young generation. Young people praise western culture and lifestyle and aim to become more like them yet, they are living in half traditional half westernized culture. This can makes confusion of whom they really are and which culture they should follow.

The second matter is the unsuitability of varied modern global society. While some young people understand and adapt the huge amount of novel culture, there are others who have difficulties comprehending them. These are usually people who do not have access to new technology and information which are necessary to understand modern global life. People with low income and aging generations are an example. This inaptness can make them feel isolated from the rest of the society causing depression and emotional wounds.

This leads to the last issue which is the increase of division in different groups comprised in one society. Old generation won't be able to understand young generation because their culture is just so different. Young generation can access to foreign culture easier than the elders while the elders would keep their traditional culture. They would possibly get different perspective from different culture resulting more gaps and misunderstandings.

The biggest reason why these issues are most concerned within contemporary artists is because they affect the local people straightly and significantly. Consequently the artists who are observing the environment and people around them could easily distinguish them.

Contemporary art in Vietnam

Vietnamese contemporary art is very young since it only started in 1990s. It might be immature and self-centered yet it is unique, innovative and original. This fascinating contemporary art scene in Hanoi was only possible because of freedom that is brought by Doi Moi policy and acceptance of some skills brought by French colony.

French colonize began at the end of nineteenth century, the French introduced the technique of oil painting to Vietnam and in 1925, they established 'Echole des painted' to educate Vietnamese students about the professional painting of traditional French art. Realistic and impressionistic style was adapted during this time. In many years before the revolution Vietnamese painting was mostly represented by dreamy landscapes painted by French style. Nevertheless After the independence from the French in 1945, Vietnam has chosen to become socialist country. The government controlled all branches of art to fit with the politics of the nation. Vietnamese art's only interest was based on revolution, especially in northern areas such as Hanoi. Artist's opinion wasn't a dominant factor in their art. Anything apart from revolution such as Nudes, Still life and abstract images were judged as useless, selfish. Also, it was the act of betraying the socialist ideology. Then, after the acceptance of Doi Moi policy by Vietnamese government in mid-1980s, the art scene in Vietnam completely changed. There was more openness if Vietnamese art and artist had more freedom about the topic of their artwork. They could finally challenge a different perspective with their artwork. Now, Vietnamese artists are getting international success. Due to the globalization many arrivals of the foreign investors, the Vietnamese art market has grown dramatically and also it is easier for many artists to study abroad and learn new perspective of art. [3] 

Since Doi Moi there have been two groups of artists who have different ideas about art. One group uses the traditional art element from French colonization time with romanticized images of Vietnam such as monk under banana or lotus leaf, a girl in traditional tunic. The other turned their critical eyes on political or social issue on Vietnam. However, the artists who had strong critical message had earned more international fame. [4] 

But the numbers of these artists are very few. Most of the contemporary artists' interest is based on traditional sense of Vietnam. These artists claim that they are representing their soul and spirit of the Vietnamese cultural traditions. These artists might not be welcomed in international art, but they take over most of main stream art. [5] One similarity which these two groups of artist have is that they are not having easy time in Vietnamese contemporary art world. While Vietnamese artists who are presenting their artwork in mainstream art stay passive because of lack of support, the others have to show their work only in underground art world. Underground art is a form of art which describes the art that is outside or on the fringes of popular culture. It is often unofficial and away from mass media [6] The reason why this group of artist has shown their work unofficially is because Contemporary Vietnamese art has amazing potential. It is necessary to put some effort and protection so that there won't be any obstacle for its growth.

of famous painting', 83 Ma May, Old quarter, www.fotosearch.com/GLW460/gwt229007/>


Pham Ngoc Duong 790

Pham Ngoc Duong is a famous contemporary artist who has participated in many contemporary art movements in Hanoi. He was born in 1976 in Vietnam; He graduated from the Vietnam University of fine art and lived in Hanoi. Since 1997 his art works have been exhibited with numerous groups. He also has had solo exhibition in many countries such as France, Switzerland, China, Norway, USA, Singapore, Japan as well as Vietnam. [7] 

His recent exhibition "People in the City" reflects the negative side of Vietnamese society caused by globalization and other social concerns.

What I first realized with this artwork is that it has successfully created the atmosphere of real Vietnamese local person living in poverty. It really carried out the sense of Vietnamese person realistically. The main figure of this painting is a mid-age man who is packed into a squared shape of invisible box. It isn't difficult to recognize that he's tired and uncomfortable. His rough face seems to record all the hardship he had to go though in his life. His clothes look shabby and filthy. He is maybe a homeless beggar or a laborer trying to sleep in cold weather. What's for sure is that he is low-class local person who struggles to live every day. The man is shrinking his body, possibly to keep his body warm from cold weather. Overall, the painting conveys painfully restricted and sympathy emotion by using Local Vietnamese man sleeping in a cold as a subject. Color, shape and space plays important role as element of art to create this emotion. The color of this artwork is very gloomy and dull. The Dark color of his face and clothes contrast with white, plain background. The main figure uses both warm and cool color to make them complement to each other. Hence, this constructs an imbalanced and awkward mood. None of the colors that he used is vivid. They are all muddy and dark. Rectangular form of the artwork makes the artwork look unique yet it makes the figure seem restricted and stuffy. The Empty, white space in the background emphasizes on isolated and vague emotion. In general, use of media and art element is very pleasant. The gradation of tone and smoothness built natural and realistic looking result.

After having an interview with the artist, it was easier to have better understanding of the his artworks. Mr. Duong said he was essentially trying to expose through this emotion built-in the artwork is the portrait of people who are living under difficult circumstances and pressure. The pressure caused by rapidly changing society, pressure from a lack of understanding of modern life, pressure from changes in culture, and from a lack of human rights. He explained that while studying art in French, he used to draw the faces of low-class laborers, and when he came back to Vietnam, he carried out the same drawing with Vietnamese laborers. He realized that the French laborers had much softer and comfortable facial features while many Vietnamese laborers are very strong and anxious. Then he started to look at faces of people around him like his mother, his friends and other strangers in the street. He felt the pressure and firmed pain like a slough within people's mind. He said this is because the Vietnamese society forces to keep people inside the shape. Unlike French people who frequently have liver performances, other cultural activities or to console with others to let all the stress and pressures out, Vietnamese people don't often have this opportunity. Therefore they have to live in a box not to harm or scratch other people in the society.

I asked him why he contains such a negative perspective in his artwork he said "If you only want to experience positivity of the life, it is hard when you face the harsh reality. For me, it is very important to laugh and have fun with the reality even it might be cruel". He also said "Although not many Vietnamese public can understand the meaning behind the artwork deeply, sometimes artists try to console their disappointments and pains with their artworks". He also mentioned about his recent exhibition, "With my exhibition, I wanted to portray the inner logic as well as the outer contradictions of Vietnamese society which are hidden behind people's face".

The way he sees the Vietnamese society was easy to understand since it's very close to my perspective. I loved how he transmitted the revolting reality in the humorous innovative manner. The use of material was mature and excellent. The message of the artwork was strong and well presented. Moreover, this artwork taught me a valuable lesson that artists shouldn't concentrate on only on brighter sides of one matter. On the contrary, they should consider reality and conveys problem whether it can be recognized to the public or not. This would make the difference in the world.


< Pham Ngoc Duong, High School Photo Shoot, 2009. Oil on canvas, Goethe-Institute Han>

2 3


3.< Pham Ngoc Duong, old lady,2009.

Oil on canvas, Goethe-Institute


4 5



Nguyen Thuy Hang 436

Another artist who has shown the portrait of Vietnam in rapid changing society is Nguyen Thuy Hang. She was born in 1978, graduated from the University of Fine Arts of Ho Chi Minh City with a B.A. in 2002. She attended the young artists' arts grant program of 2006 in Melbourne, Australia, at the same time; she studied privately in Minnesota and California in U.S.A. She was born right after the Vietnam-American war. So, her generation has fewer burdens from sorrow and trauma of the war. They are indirectly aware of the players, success, and failure of the war and they have to face the consequences of ended war. She also grew up with the experiences the development of globalization since she was born approximately when the globalization began in Vietnam. Consequently, she had seen and experienced the cost of rapid globalization in her life.

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For Many years, she disapproved of participate in art world in Vietnam. She disliked the fact that the Vietnamese publicity cares "Acceptable artist expressions" more than the actual quality of the work. On top of that, inescapable matter of fame and fortune burdened her as well. Thuy Hang comments that she sees the Vietnamese contemporary artistic world as male-dominated. She says "its subtle known fact that we women, work more steadily and constantly than men. Men work in infrequent period; yet, they have more frequent exhibition and better known". [8] 

Thuy Hang often deals with a sense of alienation among modern women of Vietnam, sometimes in surrealistic. Her recent exhibition, 'The Bunch' also includes her unique sensation. Her sculptures consist of wood, metal and white bandage. There are many metal faces without expression attached to branches of tress. The tree is about one meter and fifty centimeter long and fifty centimeter wide. Tree is looking awkwardly separated from the ground and slightly mutated. Its trunk is too short compared to the brunch and its root is balancing unsafely on the floor. The whole tree is rolled by white bandage. Most of its brunches are very short and it has small metal faces attached in the end. Together, the artwork has very horrific and hurtful yet unique and melancholic atmosphere. The art elements which create this mood are form and texture. The form of this artwork is very important since it is 3D sculpture. The curvaceous line of three and mysterious shape of the faces makes the artwork appear more spooky. The fact that it doesn't have any facial expression makes the audience wonder and imagine about them. The texture of metallic face and white bandage applies more emotion to the artwork.

The white bandage in this work is actually used for mourning and the trees are from the branches of actual trees which were destroyed as Vietnam started to be globalized and more developed. The white bandage also contains the artist's hope for a better, easier society. She is purifies the disappointment what she found in the street of Hanoi. All the sculptures in her exhibition were called 'That Bunch'. Thuy Hang used this term to describe people of her post-war generation including herself. It is ironic that this generation tries to describe itself 'That Bunch'

This represents the women who are struggling to define themselves in a society caught in the violence of rapid development caused by globalization. [9] 

Thuy Hang's work is mysterious yet very thoughtful. The choice of medium seems very careful, leaving strong impression. It is speaking its opinion clearly while being quiet indirect. In my point of view, this artwork might be trying to console and comfort the hurt, ignored soul of the society. On the whole, the artwork conveys dreadful sensation within the inner issue with alienation that artist has harmoniously.

Other artworks that comments on globalization

New lifestyle by Nguyen Van Ho obviously presents the change in life style and its consequence on the society. The painting shows modernized scene in Vietnam with unique use of oil color similar to impressionists. The painting shows the scene in the bus which shows the reality of modern Vietnamese's' daily life well.

The stressed and empty look upon the man's face contrasts with alien like girl's arrogant and thoughtless face. The artworks stress on the division between citizens due to globalization.

This artwork by Dinh Thi Tham Poong shows the women in traditional tribal costumes. At first, the artwork could seem like one of the common contemporary Vietnamese artwork resembling beauty of traditional Vietnamese custom. A closer examination will reveal that these women are on both sides of ancient and modern customs. Through this complexity the artist has raised the question about women's identification between tradition and modern.

The last artwork is showing the nude portrait of woman's upper body leading toward KFC's building. The artist is combining typical symbol of globalization with naked women figure which often appears in traditional Vietnamese art.

The background is covered with dark clouds producing uncertain and ambiguous impression. It is very obvious to recognize that the topic in this artwork is globalization. Perhaps the artist is trying to illustrate the uncertainty and confusing sentiment brought by mixture of global and traditional symbol.


Vietnamese contemporary art at the moment is unstable. With government's strict restriction about the content of the art and lack of support, contemporary artists are having hard time expressing themselves freely. In spite of these difficulties, some contemporary artists are managing to express their ideas about controversial topic which is giving huge impact on Vietnamese society such as globalization. Globalization has cons and pros effects on Vietnam. Nevertheless, negative social impacts of globalization on society are easier to recognize than the economic advantages in contemporary art. It is unsolved question why the artists prefer to reflect their negative point of view on one subject than the positive view. Some artists such as Nguyen Van Ho and Ngoc Pham Duong show their message obviously strongly in their artwork. Their voice towards their topic; globalization is clearly shown in their artwork. On the other hand, most artists prefer to express themselves indirectly. Most artists have shown the portrait of local people affected by rapid changing of globalization. They have done this by in an emotional sentimental way yet humorous way. Each artist has their unique perspective as their artistic style.

I think Vietnamese contemporary art has great potential that hasn't been veiled yet. It is important to give more support and attention because at the moment some artists are having hard time just exhibiting artworks to the public officially. As I write this essay I realized that it isn't just artistic qualities that make great artwork. It need long process of concerning the topic and getting to deeply understand them. I hope to produce and experience more of great artworks isn't just visually pleasant image.


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