Uncle Ho at the Fine Arts Museum (Hanoi)

If classical Philippine visual arts in the 19th century was shaped by the Spanish (think Juan Luna, Felix Resurrection Hidalgo and even Fernando Amorsolo), modern Vietnamese art (also dating from the 19th century onwards) have been largely influenced by the French, who put up the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine (Indochina College of Arts) in the 20th century to teach European methods to the local Vietnamese. 

As with most colonial society, Vietnamese artists have adapted these influences and used it to enrich representations of their own culture, document history, and, more powerfully, as a tool of protest against the very same colonizers who taught them the method. 

One of the highlights of our trip to Hanoi was taking the afternoon off for the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. If you plan to take in everything, prepare to spend about 2-3 hours there, where you will find sections devoted to Buddhist sculptures, lacquer art, woodblock prints, folk arts, and the modern paintings. 

To me, the Social Realist (SR) art of Vietnam was the main attraction of that museum. These are paintings that depict their revolutionary ideals- the guerilla life, warfare and the everyday tragedies and victories of the community. 

What struck me about Vietnamese SR art is how intimate they appeared. One of my favorites of the bunch was this portrait of Uncle Ho, which shows the leader placidly smoking and sitting amidst a gorgeous Hanoi landscape painted largely in blue. What this painting highlights: the revolutionary leader's accessibility, wisdom, and calm. There's no show of outwardly strength or brute force; there is gentleness, but also strength, the kind that is internalized by the leader and the land. Most depictions of Uncle Ho follow this tradition, whether it be in paintings, photographs, or sculpture. No wonder the Vietnamese love him with so much affection to this day. 

***The Fine Arts Museum is located across the Literature Temple and is surrounded by Pho shops. A very strategic location, especially for foodies and culture-hobs. 

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