Vietnam’s treasure-house of traditional arts and crafts
Vietnam is rich in traditional arts and crafts. Many have their origins in other traditions, Chinese, Indian, Malay, European, and so on, but over the centuries they have evolved into something distinctly Vietnamese.
Vietnamese lacquerware is a good example of the evolution of a craft. Introduced into Vietnam from China, the skill of creating highly-polished articles by coating them with several layers of resin developed into sophisticated art. The brilliant colours and gilded embellishments in pagodas and temples, delicate items of polished furniture, large wall-hung artworks, and tourist souvenirs are all being created by modern craftspeople, and show influences from all over Asia and beyond.
Wood and stone carving
The tradition of wood carving can be seen in Vietnamese statuary, furniture, architecture and ornaments. Typically, they are heavily incised and often stained to very dark colours or lacquered. Inlaying, usually with mother of pearl, is also a highly-developed Vietnamese craft.
An abundance of high-grade limestone and the early influences of the Hindu motifs of the Cham people have encouraged a long tradition stone carving. In the past, the craft was closely associated with embellishments to royal and religious buildings, but is now more often expressed in the form of public statuary. The fine work in the large cities shows a variety of styles from classic styles through Soviet realism to modern art.
A particularly Vietnamese tradition is the ‘craft village’, small communities where the inhabitants work together to manufacture particular products such as knives, rush mats, bamboo birdcages, ceramics, rice wine, and dozens of other commonplace and unusual articles. Most craft villages are in the north, mainly clustered around Hanoi.
The richness and diversity of ethnic craft in Vietnam can be seen in many shops and galleries in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Advanced skills include embroidery, batik, appliqué work and different styles of weaving, often with highly stylised patterns, as well as intricate jewellery, usually fashioned from silver and local gemstones.
Both the mainstream and ethnic musical traditions in Vietnam are associated with religious ceremonial and ritual. The Kinh majority group has a musical tradition stretching the back to the lithophones and stone gongs of the ancient past, and the magnificent ‘rain drums’ of the Dong Son people that are on view in the museums of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Cham music and songs are part of that tradition, as is the Chinese oriented classical forms linked to the Imperial Court.
The construction of religious and royal buildings has always been regarded as a pre-eminent art form in Vietnam, and is intertwined with complex beliefs about the spirit world and religious ceremonial. Many pagodas, temples, palaces and tombs display exquisite examples of symbolic and devotional motifs and embellishments.