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Jul 02, 2023 / 17:00

Hanoi-based artist transforms garbage into shadow sculptures

While sculptures are often made out of materials such as wood, stone, clay, or metal, an artist in Hanoi is making sculptures out of shadows.

Recently introduced into Vietnam, shadow art is a unique form of sculptural art that uses a fixed source of light to create wondrous images with the 2D shadows of a 3D sculpted object.

Through Bui Van Tu’s hands, various materials - including garbage, were transformed into shadow sculptures.

The art form where shadows take center stage

Hanoi-based artist Bui Van Tu introduces one of his artworks to audiences. Photo: Dieu Khac Anh Sang

Nearly seven years ago, young construction engineer Bui Van Tu learned pottery at Bat Trang Pottery Village. He later became the creative director of a large ceramics corporation there until 2020, when he officially started his own business and began devoting all his time to the art of shadow sculpture.

“In shadow sculpture, the final product or the main subject lies in the dark part. When the work is illuminated, the shadow on the wall is the image that the artist wants to display, along with the underlying story and message it conveys,” said artist Bui Van Tu.

His works are made of various materials, especially clay, and driftwood, which are both readily available and suitable for his art style. He has also created many shadow sculptures using stone, cement and even items that are discarded daily: old helmets, bottles, soft drink cans, or paper boxes.

The seemingly useless materials were assembled by Bui Van Tu to form bizarre-looking objects. Yet when illuminated, a vivid work of art emerges, revealing the subject’s distinctive characteristics.

Spotlight lamps and driftwood are often used to create Bui Van Tu's shadow sculptures. Photo courtesy of the artist  

As Tu explained, the creation process begins with an idea. Next, the right materials are collected and cleaned. After that, a base is created, and a myriad of pieces are put together based on the idea. Most importantly, the sculpture and the lighting angle are constantly adjusted to produce the right shapes.

According to him, it is important that the lighting is well chosen and placed in the right position to enhance the beauty of the work. Spotlight lamps are often used in this art form because their bright beams can be directed at the sculpture, casting an artistic shadow on the wall.

Coming to Bui Van Tu’s shadow sculpture exhibitions, visitors will see driftwood logs, wire coils, empty cans, and other scraps forming statues that look bizarre at first glance.

But when illuminated, these works become shimmering and fanciful, and their shadows appear completely different from the materials’ shapes. Each artist's work vividly portrays and radiates the unique aura of its subject: a mother, Buddha, and other world personalities.

Spreading the Vietnamese soul

Foreign visitors to the exhibition “Anh Sang Tri Thuc” or the Light of Knowledge by light sculptor Bui Van Tu in Hanoi. Photo: Dieu Khac Anh Sang

A shadow sculptor needs basic knowledge of painting, creative thinking, imagination, and skilled hands. 

It usually takes Bui Van Tu from one to six months to complete work with the dedication of body, heart, and mind to creativity. 

A visitor took a photo with the light sculpture "The Tiger" by Bui Van Tu. Photo: Dieu Khac Anh Sang

In 2022, the exhibition titled "Anh Sang Tri Thuc" or the Light of Knowledge, was one of the biggest events held after more than 10 years of pursuing this unique art form by Bui Van Tu.

The exhibition features 12 works which are portraits of 12 famous scientists, painters and musicians such as Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

He also participated in the 2019 Hue Traditional Craft Festival in Thua Thien Hue Province with his work called "Noi Suy Tu Nghe Gom" or Ceramist's Thoughts, which is now neatly placed at the main entrance of the Center of Vietnam Quintessential Handicraft.

His artwork is showcased at Huong Sa Art House, the Center for the Quintessence of Vietnamese Craft Villages or Bat Trang Pottery Museum (Bat Trang Pottery Village, Gia Lam District), the place where the artist introduces this unique art form to domestic and international visitors to Hanoi.