Vietnamese artist Bui Thanh Tam: among one of the favourites at Asia Contemporary Art Show, October 2013.
Bui Thanh Tam is from Vietnam, Hanoi, where he currently lives and works. He has had many group exhibitions in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, and two solo exhibitions including Asia Contemporary Art Show (ACAS) and the Affordable Art Fair in Hong Kong. He is represented by Craig Thomas Gallery and, until recently Asian Art de Vivre gallery.
The artist is mainly recognised for his “Crazy People” series, which reflects Bui Thanh Tam’s feeling of the declining Vietnamese traditional culture and the impact this has on the behaviour of his contemporaries. He believes this younger generation is changing for the worst; being obsessed with luxury brands and social status. The artist is therefore portraying his contemporaries as Vietnam’s “nouveaux-riches” as they have enthusiastically taken on Western culture.
Taking aside the seriousness of the artist’s theme, we can depict glances of humour and parody if we observe the faces of his subjects and the awkward positions he has presented them in. His subjects possess the stylised faces of Vietnamese water puppets and portrays them with simpleton smiles and wide gentle stares. Their silly faces serve as masks behind which they hide their feelings of confusion and inadequacy. Consequently, Bui Thanh Tam can be linked with the “cynical realism” movement along with Yue Minjun. In Minjun’s work, he presents hysterically laughing subjects with the aim to depict the psychological implications of a rapid and changing China. These themes all correlate with Bui Thanh Tam’s work as he looks into the negative impacts of Vietnam’s modernisation by giving his subjects simple and absent smiles to depict the meaningless lives they lead.
However, one of the most eye-catching works present at the ACAS show was his “Young Vietnamese Girls” series: a noticeable portrait series owing to their captivating and characteristic faces, against a duality of strong colours in the background.
In each portrait, traditional images of children are pasted onto these Vietnamese girls’ faces, adding an element of sensibility and intimacy between the viewer and the portrait. The colourful background and the images pasted onto their faces, represented almost like a memory, enables the viewer to imagine endless background stories of the girl or woman.
Since the artist was present at the fair, we asked him about the meaning of this specific portrait, which we ended up purchasing:
It concerned the idea of “circle of life” with the opposing position of the children on each side of her face, transmitting the idea of generation and inheritance of tradition. Additionally, for me, the duality in contrasting colours of the dark shade of purple and the brighter shade of yellow, could indicate the hardship or the happiness/success in her life, adding a touch of humanity and possible identification with the piece.
However, do not take my word for it. I was taught through the many talks and tours I have attended here in Hong Kong, that many gallerists and Asian artists stress the importance in bringinb our own interpretation and experience to a piece. This has the aim to attract more people to the arts and of course, to heighten our visual art experience.
So, I will ask you this: what do you see in this piece?
PS: All pictures (except Young Vietnamese Girl IV) were taken from: http://buithanhtam.com/crazy-people-xiv/
Bui Thanh Tam’s website: http://buithanhtam.com