Welcome to the dollhouse

By Kim Nga, TN News

Email Print

A Hanoi artist shows us our essential selves in the form of tiny dolls
 A wooden doll called "What I was taught at school," displayed in the exhibition.
There's a purity and innocence to children that can bring a smile to the face of even the coldest cynic.
It's the child's indomitable spirit that Tran Thu Hang sees as essential to our humanity, and thus to her work as an artist.
Inspired by Japanese culture and the Japanese doll making tradition, Hang, 27, began sculpting her own tiny dolls out of pinewood and porcelain as an arts student at the Vietnam University of Fine Arts in 2006.
Now she's an Internet sensation with her own prestigious exhibition who often makes custom-made dolls for rich buyers.
Hang's collection, entitled "Art doll: Silent Voices," is on show at the Japan Foundation Center for Cultural Exchange in Hanoi until October 7.
Her fans often say Hang's colorful work speaks to their inner-child and touches some of their deepest and most emotional memories.
But communicating that kind of feeling in a small doll is no easy task.
"When I make a doll inspired by a specific child, I prefer spending time with them instead of just looking at their photos," says Hang. "Childhood and a sense of humor are the two indispensable truths that I try to preserve in my creations."
For Hang, babies and children, the focus of her work, represent humanity at its most alive and fresh. She says her work is about memory.
"Dolls are inseparable from the lively and fresh memories of our childhoods," she says. "But these are not only kid's toys, but can also be used by adults. Every single doll in my work tells its own story, and I take those stories from my real-life experiences."
A young girl combing her hair, a young boy sitting on the potty, a newborn babe sleeping with a soother, a curious toddler peering into a fish bowl, these are all the memories that Hang communicates in works like "Stand on the ladder to the sky and catch a basket of stars," or "Little fish, it is time for bed."
It takes between a week and two months to finish a doll, which she sculpts using power-saws, knives and a variety of smaller, more precise tools. The expressions on the tiny faces are incredibly realistic and express the pureness and soulfulness of spirit in children, which Hang says is her biggest inspiration, alongside simple innocence.
The realism of Hang's exhibition is actually what gives it its surreal, dreamlike quality. Her miniature worlds are so realistic that they put the viewer in another world.
Hang crafts and adorns her tiny people with tiny jewels, outfits and everyday items like earrings, perfume bottles, teacups and bicycles, and it's this authenticity that puts the viewer in a kind of strange dream.
A family dinner, a young ethnic boy riding a bicycle and a traditional Vietnamese wedding with complete décor are all part of the show, which takes observers through many very different, but all very real, Vietnamese worlds.
Though much of her work depicts the real world, she also has quite a few fairy-tale like dolls, and she also makes figures to order. Customers have begun asking for dolls of themselves, their children, their friends and other loved ones.
Hang has just begun making special edition silicon portrait dolls, which are custom-made to look like a real person, for US$500 (VND10 million) each. She has 10 orders so far.
And it's no wonder. Hang spends time with anyone whose portrait she is going to create, especially children, to understand as best she can what they are all about. The result is usually splendid.
On a doll Hang made to look like her niece, the gently sculpted silicon forms tiny fat wrinkles, veins and realistic creases that almost bring the doll to life.
For Hang it is these human elements and features that make her dolls special.
"It is not only traditional costumes that reflect culture," she says. "The doll's countenance and background paints the best cultural picture."

More Arts & Culture News