Graffiti and street art in Vietnam

Back in England, I lived on a big steel barge in the heart of one of the largest cities in the country.

She was moored in the old dock where the vegetable market used to be. At weekends, if the weather was calm, I would take her out for a run down the canal for a picnic to see the countryside roll slowly by.

The inland waterways of northern England are often hidden from view as they wander through fields and woodland and the industrial areas of towns and cities. Because of this, the industrial buildings, bridges and walls are perfect canvasses for young graffiti artists to vent their creativity when no one is around.

As in many UK cities, our council has set aside some walls in the city center for graffiti artists to use as they wish. The hope is that artists will use these walls to experiment with their work rather than on privately-owned facades. These public spaces also give people the chance to watch artists at work and to learn about their tags and messages.

Graffiti art

Of course, the public walls don’t completely satisfy the artists’ need to produce clandestine creations and to tag concrete walls to say, “I was here.” The quiet concrete canvasses of the canalside buildings are the perfect location for these adventures. So I would look forward to seeing the latest creations under the motorway bridges, inside derelict factories and on lonely walls.

When I came to Vietnam, I never thought I would miss all this urban art, but actually, when I spotted my first piece of tagging in District 1, I felt a kind of relief. Somehow, I felt reassured that young artists are indeed active and practising even in this distant, tropical, urban landscape.

Vietnam has a proud tradition of street art. The government used to commission artists to design and paint huge messages to promote healthy living, career or personal development along with a few inspirational or heroic words to the masses. Since the beginning of time, man has been communicating the greatness of kings, victories in battle, the teachings of prophets and gurus and other historical events and stories through visual arts. The great murals at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the paintings in the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt are superb examples of this.

Graffiti art 2

So what are the modern-day graffiti artists saying? It’s not certain they are saying anything in particular. Their work is like that of most other artists; they do it because they love it and the style of work varies from artist to artist like any other genre. Picasso once said that “an artist is a child who managed to survive into adulthood,” and graffiti artists generally have a stronger sense of play and enjoy using more fantasy and imaginary characters than ‘traditional’ artists – that’s for sure.

For my part, I would always support the arrival of more color in our urban landscapes and generally find most graffiti more acceptable that some modern, commercial advertising hoardings which are responsible for most of the visual pollution in our neighborhoods and highways.

Graffiti brings a human touch to neglected walls and surely the works are no more offensive or intrusive than all those stencilled telephone numbers we have come to find so endearing.

Share this story, choose your platform!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on tumblr
Share on google
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on vk
Share on email
About the author:

Leave a Comment

#Photojournalism

From climate change protests to democratic uprisings against biased and violent authorities, it is clear that 2019 has been a pivotal year for citizens all over the world. It’s in this context that mobile app Agora launched its first#Photojournalism photo competition, with the objective to give photographers a way to shed light on specific issues. 

Read More »

Soweto

Soweto, deriving from South Western Township, was established in the 1930s to remove native people from the capital cities and neighboring areas. The first permanent housing erected in this area were the mining houses: long dormitory-style buildings where only men and mineworkers could live. The nearby goldmines are all but exhausted but the large yellow

Read More »

The Walking Machine

Local metalworker Ly Minh Tien builds a spider-like walking machine to raise awareness on environmental issues A riddle: what has 12 legs, six on either side, and is made of metal? It’s not a metal spider, but that guess isn’t far off. A fitting comparison: “You know the movie Wild Wild West?”, its builder and

Read More »

Education Matters

Education is one of the most powerful tools for fighting poverty and inequality, as well as laying the foundations for solid economic growth. The more we understand the world we live in and the more information we get about other cultures and histories, the greater our chances of understanding points of view that might differ

Read More »

A Hard Day’s Work

JUANCARLOS DURAN SOLORZANO (www.facebook.com/Juancaphotography) is a professional photographer with more than six years of experience in the industry. His latest solo exhibition was a collaboration between his native Mexico and Vietnam titled “Mexico – Vietnam Cross borders”. It was showcased in the Ethnology Museum and in Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh City. He also

Read More »

Global Families

Photographers from all corners of the planet submitted their best family shots to the #Family2019 Contest organized by Agora images. Agora is a free-to-use social app and global photography community with more than 3.5 million users from 193 countries. Every week, Agora users participate in international photography contests around one of the 52 annual hashtags

Read More »