Spotlight on Nguyễn Văn Đủ : Sovereign Asian Art Prize Interview

This interview with Nguyễn Văn Đủ is part of a series of interviews highlighting the shortlisted artists for The 2022 Sovereign Asian Art Prize – the 18th edition of Asia’s most prestigious prize for contemporary artists. Selected from over 400 entries, the finalists hail from 16 countries and regions across Asia-Pacific. Of the artists, 27 are new to The Prize – appearing in the shortlist for the first time. Read on to discover more about the finalists, their key points of inspiration, and why it is important to champion the work of artists from Asia-Pacific.


Nguyễn Văn Đủ (Vietnam) was shortlisted for his work ‘Today’s landscape (The Land of Holes) No.01’, depicting a quarry at Dinh Mountain in Vietnam, dating to the French colonial period and still exploited today.


Can you tell us a bit more about your artistic process?

My love for drawing began when I was three years old with sticks to draw on the ground, small pieces of burnt bricks, chalk to draw on the cement floors or walls. I continued to draw with pencils and ballpoint pens on drawing paper until I matured. I studied in Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts (2007-2012) with a major in oil painting, where I was educated to become a professional oil painter following the Socialist Realism Movement.

Soviet Socialist Realism is still taught at Vietnam’s Fine Arts Universities as a legacy of the Soviet Union during the cold war. Particularly, the contemporary art theory is not taught in Vietnam’s Art Universities. After graduating from the University of Fine Arts, I was invited to a six-month art residency program in the project “San Art Lab” in Ho Chi Minh City (2013-2014). San Art – an independent art space established in 2007 in Ho Chi Minh City, is one of the rare independent art spaces established and operated by artists in Vietnam with the orientation to build and develop the contemporary art in the local area for the long run. I had six months to devote myself completely to art without any financial pressure or daily living expenses.


What is the significance of using your own blood in your work?

The knowledge of political history that I was taught in school in Vietnam reminded me of the nationalism and national pride of everyone, which is influenced by education and propaganda art. Ironically, national pride is taught in different ways in each country – based on the historical battles and great victories in the history of war in that country. Brutal violence, full of sacrifices, in the history of war is less acknowledged, but the glory is always appreciated.

The blood on the landscape painting symbolizes violence, recognizing brutally violent sacrifice. This is the result of nationalism and national pride being preserved in the landscape of war history for thousands of years. The laminated 24k gold on the landscape painting glitters brightly in the sky symbolizing the glory that is always highly appreciated by the society after all.

Painting with blood is also reminiscent of the earliest human paintings on cave from the Paleolithic period and still exists today. This archeological evidence shows that the materials used by humans to paint were natural colors crushed from soil, rocks, bones, marrow, urine, animal blood and human blood… The blood on artwork also preserves DNA certainly and most accurately confirms one’s identity, which also reveals human’s fragile nature.

Further, I deduced that the laws of each country have considered mutual violence is illegal from ancient time until recently, but violence between nations in state of war is perceived as legitimate violence by the participants or countries. In general, violent conflicts in the world have been scattered from time to time and never stopped completely. Recently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has shown that humans seem to not learning anything from the history of war. The meaning of using my own blood in the artwork is to express my love for my motherland.


Nguyen Van Du, 'Today's Landscape (The Land of Holes) Np.01', 2022, artist's blood, 24k gold leaf pencil, golden matte acrylic glue, golden matte acrylic varnish on linen, 140 x 155 cm. Image from Sovereign Art Foundation
Nguyen Van Du, ‘Today’s Landscape (The Land of Holes) Np.01’, 2022, artist’s blood, 24k gold leaf pencil, golden matte acrylic glue, golden matte acrylic varnish on linen, 140 x 155 cm. Image from Sovereign Art Foundation


What knowledge do you hope to impart about the history and culture of Vietnam?

Vietnam is a country associated with a history of war for thousands of years and, most recently, the Vietnam war which lasted for several decades. Today, Vietnam’s economy is developing well since the country’s opening up for renovation in 1986, or joining the World Economic Organization (WTO) in 2007. But the effects from the war on today’s life are never ending: mothers lost children, wives lost husbands, children lost fathers. Family were separated, brothers in the same house lost contact with each other, infants were poisoned with Agent Orange, unexploded bombs and mines are still buried in the ground.

Propaganda art is part of the socialist realist art movement in Vietnam that has flourished since the end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975 until present time. From the images on the monumental posters fixed at the corner of the crossroads and squares and parks, the bright light box model with many eye-catching animal shapes and flowers on the street periodically changes according to seasons or dates of important historical events. Also the static images appear in textbooks from primary classes for pre-literate children to graduate programs. Additionally, the animations appear intermittently in popular entertainment programs on TV and on the internet. The monument was also excitedly built to flourish continually in public places throughout Vietnam, even building from a smaller to a larger memorial replacing the original visual meaning of the monument that predates it.

All these actions are aimed to encourage the collective consciousness, promote love of the homeland, national pride, and determine the country’s sovereignty. Authentic public art is rarely seen in public places in Vietnam. Visual art, especially contemporary art, has not been popularly developed in Vietnam. The fine modern art tradition of the Indochina period from the first generation of painters of the Indochina Fine Arts College, marked the first time in Vietnam that there was a painter in a professional art school using the aesthetic standards of ancient Greece. This specific style of art was not widely introduced by the government to the public as they frequently do in education. In 1924, the Fine Arts College was established in Hanoi in the north of Vietnam by the friendship of a French painter-Victor Tardieu and a local painter-Nam Son.


How important is it to support artists from Asia-Pacific?

For a new artist with a new voice like myself, it is very important to be recognized internationally in the global art world. Right now, my voice, my story as a local artist living and working in a remote, small, rural village in Vietnam, has now been heard by the world. For me, artwork is an open interpretation, a question encouraging a discussion from the artist community, the art world, and people from all walks of life. I am motivated by the thought that each person may come to my artwork with their own perceptions, ideals, and knowledge base to find their own inspiration within my work.


To vote for Nguyễn Văn Đủ’s work, click here. The most popular finalist will receive the Public Vote Prize and USD1,000.

To register interest in purchasing Nguyễn Văn Đủ’s artwork, please email Artwork sales will be launched in person and online during Art Central, from 26 – 29 May 2022. Proceeds will be spilt equally between the artist and charitable programmes.

‘Spotlight on Nguyễn Văn Đủ‘ courtesy of Sovereign Asian Art Prize, May 2022