Back from the brink

TN News

Email Print

The art of painting in Sinh Village in Thua Thien-Hue Province is now going through a revival after almost dying out due to a government edict

Paintings are hung up to dry before being rolled up and put in bamboo tubes to be sold to tourists

For more than 300 years the village of Sinh in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue has been renowned for its paintings.

But the Sinh style almost went extinct after the war ended in 1975 when officials put it on a list of superstitious practices and ordered artists to destroy their tools. That it did not is due to one man called Ky Huu Phuoc.

A ninth-generation artist, he disobeyed orders and buried his tools instead of destroying them.

Thankfully, he was forgiven and, with support from the authorities, he resuscitated the art and now there are signs of a revival.

More than 30 households in the village are creating the paintings again and their works are being sold outside the province.

Sinh paintings are distinct from the other famous traditional styles in Vietnam - Dong Ho from the northern province of Bac Ninh and Hang Trong from Hanoi.

They are closely linked with the spiritual life of people in Hue because they are used for worshipping and burnt immediately afterwards. This was also the reason why for a while it was considered superstitious and marked for eradication.

The archetypal Sinh painting comprises pictures of people and animals. One of the most typical works features a woman in bright clothes with two maids standing by her side. Another is of a man and a woman or a boy and a girl.

Blue, red, black, yellow, and violet are the predominant colors used in the paintings.

Promoting traditional crafts is often a tricky business because artisans should also be able to make a living through their art.

Phuoc says: "If we make only worship paintings, we can earn just VND50,000 (US$2.5) a day. People are very likely to quit the job."

However, things are getting better for the villagers since Sinh Village has become a tourist attraction.

Visitors can not only see artisans create paintings and buy them but can also in fact try their hand at it themselves.

In 2009 Phuoc decided to create some new templates for the paintings since the existing ones were pretty limited and modern tourists were looking for variety. The four new ones he created depict some typical cultural snippets - wrestling, tug of war, blind man's bluff, and bai choi (traditional folk opera) and are a big hit with buyers.

Hue has for long been a magnet for tourists, and where tourists go, there is a bustling souvenir industry. Sinh paintings have capitalized on this trend, and as a result life in the village has been improving in the last few years.

More Travel News