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Jan 11, 2024 / 07:21

Impressions of Hanoi's identity through unique souvenirs

The strength of Hanoi Creative City is enhanced by the fusion of artists' skills and the exquisite lacquer of Ha Thai Village into new cultural products.

The famous Ngu Tao (Fish and Hornwort) lacquer painting by artist Nguyen Huyen (1915-1994) is given a new lease of life through the hands of lacquer artisans in Ha Thai Village, Hanoi.

To celebrate the New Year 2024 and the Lunar New Year, the young designers behind the Moon n Sun project took inspiration from the Ngu Tao painting to create a gift collection imbued with traditional cultural identity.

One of the artists who studied at the Hanoi-based Indochina College of Fine Arts (circa 1932-1936), Nguyen Huyen is a prominent artist whose painting Blue Buffalo was chosen to be printed on the Vietnamese 100 dong banknote (currently out of circulation).

 The lacquer painting Ngu Tao was created in 1975 by Nguyen Huyen.

The lacquer painting Ngu Tao was created in 1975 when the artist was 60 years old. It depicts four goldfish swimming around a few branches of hornwort as a lively and vibrant decoration. In Vietnamese culture, goldfish symbolize strong vitality, perseverance, endurance, abundance, and prosperity, bringing good luck and peace.

Inspired by the painting, initiator Hoang My Lien and young designers from Moon n Sun combined the painting with the traditional lacquer material of Ha Thai Village to create the 2024 Tet Gift Collection. The collection includes products in lacquered boxes of various sizes and shapes with motifs of goldfish swimming as a blessing to be sent to the giftees. It is a wish for a New Year full of energy, peace, prosperity and happiness for all, just like the symbolic meaning of the goldfish.

Lien said the project chose Ngu Tao to design with the desire to continue to strongly disseminate cultural values through the project of bringing applied arts to life. High-quality artworks imbued with Vietnamese cultural identity will be incorporated into applied art products and widely used in life by young designers who cherish the nation's culture and values.

 Hoang My Lien (center) and young designers from the Moon n Sun project. Photo: The Hanoi Times

The artists believe that each design they create is a folk tale that continues to be told. It is the story of fine arts, talented artists, and the story of Vietnamese craft villages.

"Cultural and artistic foundations are valuable materials for applied design products, which aim to add value to Vietnamese products while spreading culture in a new and attractive way as part of cultural industry development. We hope to tell the public many stories about Vietnam's cultural quintessence," said Hoang My Lien.

Nguyen Huyen is a prominent painter in Vietnam's fine arts. File photo

According to Lien, Hanoi needs many more innovative and artistic gifts to impress international tourists.

Researcher Ngo Quy Duc agreed, saying he wanted to bring the cultural values of rural areas, traditional crafts, and Vietnamese craft products to the world.

According to Duc, Hanoi is famous for its more than 1,000 traditional handicraft villages, but tourism in the capital is short of souvenirs.

"Any organization or individual dedicated to creating and reviving cultural elements through new cultural products is worthy of respect. Above all, it requires the cooperation of many industries and communities. We are very happy to accompany village craftsmen and local artists to create new cultural and tourist gifts," he said.

Duc has seen many businesses join traditional craft villages to create cultural and tourism products. This combination helps create supply and demand factors that contribute to both the preservation and development of traditional craft villages, the creation and regeneration of cultural heritage, and the development of the capital's cultural industry, especially after Hanoi joined the Creative Cities Network.  

Horn combs from Thuy Ung Village in Hanoi can be made into souvenirs for tourists visiting the capital. Photo: Ngo Minh/The Hanoi Times

Phung Quang Thang, Chairman of the Hanoi Travel Association, said souvenirs associated with cultural identity create a unique feature in each place. However, Hanoi's gifts and souvenirs are still duplicated and monotonous, failing to express the unique characteristics of the capital city and its people. Some products do not guarantee optimal quality and size, so foreign tourists can't carry them comfortably and keep them for a long time.

According to Thang, an embroidered painting from Laos can be kept for 10 years. Russian matryoshka dolls can last for several decades. Meanwhile, Vietnamese bamboo and rattan items and paper masks are easily moldy or damaged, while ceramic items are fragile. Many tourists like to look at them but are reluctant to buy them as gifts because of the inconvenience.

Souvenirs from the capital not only bring economic benefits but also help promote Vietnam's image around the world. There are about 3-4 million international visitors to Hanoi every year. If Hanoi offers unique souvenirs visitors want to display at home, the promotional effect will be huge. Through word of mouth from tourists, Hanoi can welcome a significant number of visitors every year, Thang said.