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Tiger Translate Hanoi

East-meets-West in Vietnam's art celebration focused on growth

by Phuong-Cac Nguyen in Culture on 10 June 2011

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As the cultural center of Vietnam, Hanoi recently made the ideal location to kick off Tiger Beer's latest event in its free art and music series, Tiger Translate. With more than half of the country's population born after 1975, the theme focused on growth, providing a badly needed forum for local Asian artists to come together and show off their work on a bigger scale and international platform.

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Overseas artists included Prefab77, a wheat-paste trio from Newcastle, England, and JabaOne, a street artist from Belgium who resides in Singapore. They were matched with locals Hoang Art, whose Western-influenced style earned him a first-prize award in Hanoi's Long Bien Festival of Arts; Pham Huy Thong, a studio painter and teacher whose work doubles as social commentary; Linkfish, a name recognized for being one of the first pioneers of the street art movement in the country; and DungJoon, a painter who is also an architect and art director. "For us, the reason we have such shows is to create the exchange," said Tiger Translate Global senior brand manager Patsy Lim, citing how the invitation of major-name international artists helps shine the spotlight on lesser-known ones.

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Tiger Translate Hanoi unfolded on Hoa Lo, the same road where the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison is located. Although it took eight levels of approval by various city departments to close off the street for the event, the choice clearly worked to drive home the growth theme.

Under a cloudy sky, heavy heat, humidity and the never-ending honks of scooters and cars, the artists spent a few days before the event painting the wide walls installed along the block, occasionally switching their focus to six plywood trees. Nearby, workers installed pieces by international artists turned into mesmerizing 3-D by Tiger Translate. The final touches were made in front of more than 3,200 eventgoers on the evening of the show. While most of the Vietnamese artists already spoke a little bit of English, language wasn't a problem. "Because it was all visual, it's people who have sketchbooks," said Marc Ross of Prefab77. "The language barrier doesn't matter."

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While spray painting his own piece, Hoang Art observed Prefab77's wheat-pasting technique and invited them to collaborate on an area of his piece. In fact, all of the collaborations worked similarly. Artists began their pieces, and as they checked out each other's progress, they'd suggest how they could add their own signature.

For such a young street art scene—Linkfish told us it's only about five years old, originating from hip-hop parties held in underground Hanoi locations—both Prefab77 and JabaOne were surprised with the art prowess of the Vietnamese. "They have a very good level for beginners," said JabaOne. He was particularly impressed with their lack of access to more sophisticated types of spray paint. "When they move to the modern spray can, their technique will even be better," he said. Prefab77 echoed the same sentiments about Hoang Art. "His style is incredible. I can't imagine there's many of that size of walls in Vietnam that you could paint and not get arrested," Ross said.

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The rapidity with which the Vietnamese artists did their work was also something Prefab77 found remarkable. Pham Huy Thong, who had never painted on outside canvases before, painted his tree with a picture of a baby—as a representation of the changing consumer habits of today's youth—in under an hour and a half. Using brush and acrylic paint on top of Prefab77's wheat-pasted posters, his piece ended up being the paradigm of the East-meets-West goal of Tiger Translate.

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From the side of the local artists, they were most taken with Prefab77's wheat-paste method, a style they had never seen. "We have spray cans, pens or brushes," said Linkfish. "They have stickers and posters." Whether it was a matter of tradition, the local artists said they never realized street art could be made outside of the use of conventional materials. Prefab77's response was a little ironic, "They have the best glue we've ever used!"

Tiger Translate will run in other cities this year and continue exploring the themes of growth and metropolis.

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