Painting the town pink

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 The few remaining residents of the half-demolished An Khanh apartments, in District 2, have been pleased by the arrival of seven murals painted by a pair of French graffiti artists. The painting of a sleeping girl was created, some time last month, in a demolished house on Luong Dinh Cua Street.

Nguyen Thi Nhut, 60, moved to the An Khanh apartments in District 2, 35 years ago.

Since 2000, she's watched government demolition teams tear down the neighborhood, apartment by apartment in an effort to build up a ritzy new residential zone called Thu Thiem.

"I still keep running my small coffee shop for the few remaining households" she told Thanh Nien. "For some reason, the owners have not moved."

Recently, a pair of visiting French graffiti artists visited the depressing, half-demolished neighborhood and began painting bright murals on the walls cartoon girls squatting, reading and napping.

"The French guys came here around three or four weeks ago," said Nhut. "They spent hours in the sun to paint the walls. The guys are nice and so are their works. They delight they've really brightened up the whole face of the neighborhood."

The aging coffee vendor said that the French artists should have painted more walls instead of only six or seven ones. 

"At first, the district police did not allow anyone to take photos of the paintings. But after a few local papers began reporting the graffiti, they've became more relaxed about it. I am happy to see the nice paintings, but I am happier since they attract many art-lovers who come here to take photos and buy coffee at my shop" Nhut said with a grin.

The broken walls around Nguyen Thi Lun's house shot the area into the limelight. A colorful mural of a girl in a light pink dress riding a bubbly motorbike graced her walls drawing shutterbugs from all over the city.

Starting in mid-June the French artists, known as "Seth" and "Dem" began painting the cartoonish murals throughout the neighborhood.

And the locals have seemed to forget that their houses will be smashed to pieces.

The pair was invited to Vietnam to participate in an exhibition titled Esperantopolis at the French Consulate. The show, held on June 24, featured work from French and Vietnamese painters, comic illustrators and performance artists.

But the idea of painting a broken neighborhood was Seth's primary aim.

He brought along his friend identified only as "Dem" to help paint the town"¦ pink.

Seth, better-known name of Julien Malland grew up in Paris and has won international acclaim as a noted freelance graffiti painter, illustrator, graphic designer and writer. He works for the Canal+ channel as a presenter on a documentary series entitled "Les nouveaux explorateurs" (The new explorers.)

Seth told Tuoi Tre newspaper that, since 2003, graffiti has brought him to America, China, Mexico, India and Cuba. In every country, he has sought out walls that will soon be destroyed as his medium.

In Seth's opinion, the short-lived murals provide a "happy send-off" to the moribund neighborhoods.

"Using soon-to-be-ruined walls helps lessen the unwelcome feeling of those who do not empathize with graffiti artists," he told the newspaper.  

But Seth's works on the walls of District 2 have made a somewhat subversive splash on local blogs and forums.

Many praise the paintings, and wonder at their significance.

"How can such a nice girl in nice outfits sleep amidst such devastation? The incomplete and irresponsible constructions projects have reduced many people to homelessness," Nguyen Minh wrote under a recent Tuoi Tre article about the murals.  "There are many unused lands while hundred of people are struggling to settle down. I guess the artists were trying to imply the bitter reality in their lovable paintings."

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