‘Just me and the fabric’: Vietnamese artist finds success with cloth work

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Artist Tran Thanh Thuc selecting a scarf with designs of the Eiffel Tower for an artwork in her home studio in Hanoi on October 13. AFP

In a hot and stuffy room in Hanoi, Tran Thanh Thuc holds up a delicate silk scarf and begins snipping it into tiny pieces, ready to paste onto her works of art.

For four decades, Thuc has been recreating Vietnamese landscapes using vibrant shades of fabric cut from scarves, traditional ao dai (a long split tunic) – or whatever material she could find during years of poverty in the 1980s.

“At that time, I tried to look for woollen string, velvet cloth or other very simple pieces to make my first pictures,” she says.

“Now sometimes I cut them from the very beautiful silk scarves sent from my friends abroad.”

Often using hundreds of thousands of pieces of cloth to shape trees, rivers and patches of sky, the 61-year-old artist doesn’t dare to cool her home studio with fans or air conditioning, even in the boiling summers of the Vietnamese capital.

“If the fan is on, the details will get blown away,” she says.

“So when I work, the environment is tough . . . it’s just me and the fabric.”

For most of the years that Thuc has worked with cloth, she has also kept a day job as a civil servant and only had time “to do what she loved” during the night.

But her fortune began to change when an American collector bought a work in 2000 and around a decade ago she started to be invited to exhibitions and her work began to sell.

Now her creations sell for between $1,000 and $5,000 and she has taken part in shows around Vietnam.

“I am happy because they help me to have a quite comfortable life and I’m free to do what I want,” she says.

“My works are a summary of the passion and the beauty that I experienced after travelling across this land.”