Locating Vietnamese Contemporary Art: An ethnographic attempt from afar.

1 Initially, as a student majored in Design Cultures, I was intrigued in Vietnam precisely because I barely knew anything about the art history of my country. Having exposed to the studies of Design Cultures and Histories, I set out to find how Vietnamese art history is chronicled by putting it in a complex relationship with the sociocultural and political background. Identifying and locating art from a place like Vietnam that rarely figures in art history cannot be done overnight as I am thousand miles away from the happenings. This essay, thus, is my humble attempt to look at Vietnam’s contemporary art scene through an afar-ethnographic approach mainly by flexible design methods such as interview, survey, case study, discourse analysis and participant observation. Given how little experience in the real-world research and history learning that I possess, my findings are based on personal analysis, perception and hence, do not necessarily reflect other’s views on the same topic.

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Side note:

So this is my last assignment for BA Design Cultures Year One. There is this mixed feeling. I have learnt so much more than words can describe. Not just the knowledge I learnt from lectures or books, but also the experiences I’ve gained during my study process. It is amazing how you can learn from literally everything around. Each object, regardless of how little, casual, ubiquitous it might be, has its own story. I enjoyed all the ventures set out to find out about the context, background, history of things during the course, just as much as when looking for the rawness in everyday talks with people. Learning to contextualize makes you realize how big the world is, and also how easily one can bypass, underestimate the wonder  of little things. As much as I want to move on to Sophomore (as this my second time being Freshman, well positively speaking though), I treasure all the things that I’ve learnt during my First year. I don’t want it to end, but I also understand that when a door closes, another one opens. Sincerest thanks to all my tutors and lecturers. Thank you for all the talks, emails, for always supporting, encouraging, and baring with my ambitiously, sometimes annoyingly demanding curiosity.


Design Cultures Live: Dress, Identity & the Designscape

“My Kitchen – My Self” is a portrait of Azusa Yasui – a modern Japanese woman, emphasized on her experience in attiring as a home-based medical secretary. However, having lived abroad for over fifteen years, for Azusa, it was never the question of “what to wear”, but rather the question of “who she is”. In the Japanese society, women often face the dilemma of desiring to become independent or complying with the gender expectation of good housewife and wise mother. Would she break this social norm, or would she conform to it by being an independent housewife in her kitchen?

Interviewed & Filmed: Trieu Ngoc
Music: “Mad Summer” by Joe Hisaishi

Project website: http://www.mapping-design.org/

Under The Roof: Textile In The Attic


A silk weavers and his family

In the center of East End London, there was once this prosperous silk industry of Spitalfields. Located in the diverse neighborhood, the weathered brick-built 19 Princelet Street embraces itself in a connectedness to the past. Just another witness of the centuries. Selecting the notable attic windows at 19 Princelet Street as a dynamic locus of the past, this project aims to explore the myriad stories of Spitalfields’ silk workers over a 300-year.

What special about 19 Princelet Street’s attic windows?


No.19 Princelet Street

19 Princelet Street was built in 1719, first housed by a Huguenot family, the Orgier, who escaped from religious persecution from France to enter the silk weaving industry of Spitalfields. Like many other weavers’ houses, 19 Princelet Street was subdivided into lodging areas and workshop spaces. As the draw looms, used for the weaving of figured silks, required large and lofty rooms with a good light, workshops were usually set on the top floor of the building. There, attic windows were altered to be large and horizontal for the special convenience of their job. These ‘weaver windows’ are essential as not only did they provide an ideal lighting condition to produce high-quality fabric but also allowed the weaver to work for the longest time.

Under the roof, multiple interwoven stories of the diverse history aligned reveal the uniqueness of the place. It is necessary to set these stories in a social and economic contexts as the identity of it can only be revealed once the diverse individuals or groups who lived and have lived there linked up with their surroundings in a complex spatial web. Now, you are invited to join in the journey back in time, to discover what life was like for Spitalfields’ silk workers.

attic windows

Attic windows

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Brick Lane : ‘A bowl of curry’

H.C Bhopal & Co. 

The cozy atmosphere, the warm, heavily aromatic and pungent smell of cumin spread all over the place and spilled onto the road  made me feel like was nowhere near London but the land of curry and prayer.  Before I even noticed, I was  surrounded by a handful of textile rolls in H.C Bhopal & Co, a textile, fabric merchant shop located in the historical and multicultural street of Brick Lane.

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Running the family business for the last 35 years, owner of the shop, a lovely middle-aged Indian lady, explained briefly about the name ‘Bhopal’ as it was after the capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh Bhopal, where she’s come from. Unlike many other curry restaurants or vintage shops, H.C Bhopal has no special feature on its fascia design or any significant decoration on display window. However, according to Hazel Conway’s book ‘Design History’, section 8 ‘Environmental Design’ (1987), the shop, from the outer look, seems to have blended with the scenery of Brick Lane where ancient brick-based houses adjacent to each other creates such a cozy, pleasant and vintage ‘sense’ for the place, and in a way, making it even more outstanding and special.

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According to the article ‘The new ‘creative’ Brick Lane’, George Mavrommatis (2006) asserted that the periods of 1970s witnessed a large wave of successive immigrants in London. The case of H.C Bhopal’s proprietress was no exception. The Indian lady portrayed Brick Lane as ‘a bowl of curry’*, referring to the co-existence of  ‘the local people’ and ‘the artists’.  She refused to reveal her name, however, she was pleased to share the story of how she had ended up in Brick Lane. That dates us back to the 1970s when she moved to London with her husband, who had just been offered a job at the time. Later, they decided to reside in London and have been living in Brick Lane for a few decades since then.

George (2006) also noticed the emergence of an ethnic boundary between the multicultural ‘creative’ professionals and the local Bangladeshis in Brick Lane. Speaking to the proprietress about her experiences of being a ‘local’ resident , it was obvious that the diversity of ethnicity and local conditions of multiculturalism didn’t seem to have any influence on her. From what I observed, the family managed to maintain their traditional lifestyle and religious customs in their everyday life. For example, the shop is relatively small and is stacked to the rafters with rolls of fabric however, a special and scared space for displaying pictures of Hindu deities is still available. Diwali – the ancient Hindu festival of light celebrated in autumn every year (BBC, 2014) was also mentioned in the conversation as she tried to capture her experiences as a whole.

In order to have a further look at her attitude and personal opinion in general, I posed a question to see weather she enjoyed living in the area or not. The answer was uncertain but her son, who was born and raised in London, suggested: “If she didn’t like it she wouldn’t stay here for the last 35 years would she?”.

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I assume that what she meant is similar to the concept of ‘salad bowl’ which suggests that the integration of the many different cultures of United States, as it usually takes a lot of distinct components: ingredients, herbs and spices to compose a dish of curry.


BBC (2014). Diwali – 23 October 2014. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/religion/hinduism/diwali.shtml [Accessed on 2/11/2014]

George, M (2006). The new ‘creative’ Brick Lane: A narrative study of local multicultural encounters. SAGE Publications.

Hazel, C (1987). Design History: a student’s handbook. HarperCollinsAcademic.

Brick Brick Brick Brick Lane!

street arts

random bicycle stands

interesting water poles covered with advertising stickers

in fact, stickers were everywhere

pavements, street signs, metal fences, walls and  caps

curry ‘master chef’ on display windows

more street arts

the redolent smell of old furnitures in a vintage shop

refurbished organ and vinyl discs

the pungent smell invading the air in a maze full of beautiful, colorful textiles




the lane of the bricks

the bricks of the lane

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Docklands Objects

I. Museum of London Docklands Objects 

I felt an overwhelming desire to explore as I entered the Museum of London Docklands knowing that it holds the most fundamental keys to access the history of London’s River Thames and Docklands. Among all the displays and exhibitions, “New Port New City” and “London, Sugar and Slavery” are the ones that really fascinated me.

1. Exhibition: New Port New City 1945 – present

From the primitive upriver docks to the busiest port in the world, “New Port New City” exhibits the changes that transformed this part of East London in over 60 years.

“Decline and regeneration, as the Docklands reinvented itself for a new century.” 

1960s and 1970s marked a turning point in the London Docklands’s regeneration history.  As containerization started to take place, small docks such as West India, Millwall and East India were simply too small for the modern container-ships, which required a deepwater port to park and a large space for unit-loading. Construction of new dock extension began in 1963 and by late 1960s, Tilbury had became the leading container port in the world. Considering the containerization as one of the main roles in the regeneration, making London Docklands once the biggest port in the world, ‘container ships’ were my choice of key subject of “New Port New City” exhibition.

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