The Writing’s on the Wall

Saigon’s youngest graffiti crew speak about vandalism, jail time and their passion for art.

Every weekend or so a group of teenagers can been seen gathering in front of a long stretch of washed out wall near an alley off Dang Van Bi street, adjacent to the Truong Tho milk factory. “You hoodlum punks. Go vandalize somewhere else. Get out of here!” yells a lady when they get too close to her house. It’s apparent that their presence is unwanted but they continue with what they’re doing – spray painting the wall.

They may be only teenaged schoolboys but they’re far from being hoodlums. They’re Sons of God (SOG), a graffiti art crew comprised of six boys between 17 and 18 years old. Buis is the leader with Cur, Krostic, Tin, T.O.X. and Thiinh completing the group. SOG started roughly a year ago stemming from a shared passion for graffiti artwork, and trouble with adults and the police along the way have only forged a tighter unity among them.


“We are, I think, a third generation crew since the start of graffiti in Vietnam in 2006. The first ones are UFO of Saigon and The Street Jockey of Hanoi,” says Cur. “We formed our crew when we were 16, but many of us dabbled long before that. Vietnamese graffiti artists really don’t get any younger than us.”

“We started out with the wrong idea of graffiti, like a lot of other young people who went along with the hype,” explains one of the members. “We learned to draw from Japanese manga art. At first only copying, and then creating our own versions, our own style. It’s about the same for 8x, 9x generation Vietnamese. For us, that was the one art form easiest to access.”

Some of them already had a background in art, others were simply intrigued or tagged along for fun.


“Somebody suggested the name Sons of God,” says Tin. “It sounds really boastful and not actually that good. But then again, if you’re going to leave your name on the street, you want people to remember it and for that, boastful does the job. Eventually, we agreed on it.”

Their spray painting began the same way as countless other graffiti artists, with actual illegal defacing of public and private properties, one of which happened to be the subterranean wall of Thu Thiem tunnel.

“That one was a co-op job. Lots of crews came, not just us. We nearly got into trouble. The police came,” remembers Cur. “In another session, a full-blown painting and not just a tagging or bombing, we got caught by the police. We ended up spending the night before Tet in the police station. My dad said, ‘Take responsibility for your passion.’ What he meant was that he wasn’t going to bail me out the next time that happens.”


And what’s their opinion on the differences between the graffiti subculture in Vietnam and the West? “It’s pretty friendly. It’s not the same as the Western ones as all,” states Cur.

“When I was younger, my uncle, who lived in America, sometimes came around to check out my graffiti art,” says one of the crew. “He says even graffiti art in America doesn’t have such a good reputation and that only the African-Americans in the black neighborhoods do it. People tend to stay away. It’s not the same way here at all. Sure there are some rough kids, but all in all, the older crowd of graffiti artists are supportive and open.”

Graffiti began its rise alongside hip-hop and breakdancing in Vietnam back in 2006, starting first in Hanoi. Like other youth fads, it has its highs and lows and once the hype fades, it is usually a small group of hardcore enthusiasts who remain. Vietnamese graffiti art has had three such highs.


“There are not that many of us,” says Tin. “Not enough to foster the kind of overly competitive street environment that some would expect. We tag. We bomb. We mark our territory, but nobody’s going to give you a good thrashing if you happen to step into their territory. Instead, we have co-ops where two or more crews will get together and do a shared job on one wall. It’s our way of getting to know each other, and also our way of learning from each other. Since we are the youngest, there’s a lot to learn.”

It was from these older groups that the Sons of God actually learned the proper way to view graffiti, as art and not vandalism. “We have learned to be polite and accommodating. We have asked for permission to paint on people’s walls and houses instead of bombing a big one on theirs without asking. Our art is coming along. When something is beautiful, it’s harder to dismiss it. What it all comes down to is a matter of trust. Once you have proven yourself trustworthy school kids, people don’t find it that hard to let you paint on their walls,” Cur says.


There comes a time when childhood whims and fun must end though, and that time is approaching for T.o.X. as college and adulthood is eminent this year. “We have our hopes and our ambitions. We have never actually earned money from our graffiti, but there are old bros before us who succeeded and made a living out of what they love, like the crews behind Saigon Outcast, or Zero Station and their Creative Space. Now it’s our time of testing, and we’ve got to find out whether we will work a day job to feed our passion, or will our passion become our job and feed us.”

Images by Adam Robert Young

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

The States That Have Legalized Marijuana So Far 2021

Are you interested in the legalization status of marijuana, especially in the United States, and want to learn more? Do you want to know where in the United States you could visit and still be able to smoke a joint legally? The legalization of marijuana has been a hot topic in the United States for

Read More »

Understanding A Hoarder: Why Can’t They Throw Anything Away?

To provide an understanding and the process of hoarding, we must first understand its definition. Hoarding is defined as a single-minded urge of collecting and safekeeping unwanted items in great numbers. Most of the people afflicted with hoarding disorder find it hard to throw away items. A hoarder desires to save items that they know

Read More »

10 Music Stars With College Degrees

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that celebrities were just regular people before they got famous. A lot of musicians, actors, and entertainers didn’t have a plan for becoming a celebrity, really. Just like everybody, they attended college and received their degrees. Some of the superstars even continued their education and got a Master’s or a

Read More »

11 Must-See Online Exhibitions

Do you know what’s the greatest thing about the internet? You can do anything online – without getting up from the couch in your living room! And yes, that includes viewing exhibitions curated by the likes of Smithsonian and the British Museum. What’s more, such online exhibitions are free of charge. And, you can take

Read More »

Vietnam War Student Protests

Where did the student movement begin? The US airplanes started bombing North Vietnam in February 1965 after North Vietnamese submarines invaded 2 US ships at the Gulf of Tonkin. President Lyndon B Johnson commanded the revenge attacks blasting armed targets in North Vietnam. There were some criticisms about how the government was battling the self-governing

Read More »

Instagram: different ways to post

Have you been away from Instagram for a while now and have come back to practically a whole new platform but have no idea what’s going on? Do you want to know what all of the various different features are the Instagram has to offer now and how to use them? Instagram is by far

Read More »