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Mapping Cultural Diversity

Mapping Cultural Diversity

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Publicación de la Unesco sobre diversidad cultural. La red de microcines fue incluida en el rubro de las buenas prácticas.
Publicación de la Unesco sobre diversidad cultural. La red de microcines fue incluida en el rubro de las buenas prácticas.

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San Art, Ho Chi Minh City

Huong Le Thu

San Art, a non-proft organisation in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, effectively plays the
role of a platform that facilitates and promotes contemporary art. Initiated and run
by artists, San Art aims to encourage artistic expressions, raise cultural awareness,
foster international artistic exchange and stimulate discussion, in keeping with the
Convention’s objective of promoting the diversity of cultural expressions.

San Art (in Vietnamese “San” means platform)
was established in October 2007 by four
Vietnam-born artists who were educated abroad
and subsequently continue to work outside the
country: Dinh Q Le, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Phu
Nam Thuc Ha and Tiffany Chung. These artists
realised that there was a major lack of artistic
opportunities (including cultural exchange) in
Vietnam. Therefore, they established San Art as
a platform through which local and international
artists could engage and showcase their works.
The platform is located in Ho Chi Minh City
(HCMC) and serves both as exhibition space and
reading room. The organisation’s mission is to
promote, facilitate and exhibit contemporary art
in Vietnam and across South-East Asia. By pro-
viding a platform for artists’ networking, and a
forum for contemporary art discussion, San Art
seeks to nurture new talent as well as a variety of
innovative activities. The organisation is the only

such experimental arts organisation in Vietnam
that works with local and regional artists through
individual and group exhibitions, while also offer-
ing education opportunities at the same time. Its
broad cross-cutting areas of work embrace archi-

tecture, fashion, television, flm, design, music,

literature and the visual arts.

Supporting the Development
of Local Arts

San Art, apart from its regular exhibition activi-
ties, also supports the development of local artistic
expressions; organises arts education programmes
(such as curational lectures, artistic presentations,

flm screening, workshops and panel discussions),

collects publications for its public reading room
(including arts journals, exhibition catalogues,
artists’ monographs and magazines), and pro-
motes cultural awareness in the community by
connecting with the mass media. Due to its active

1 Data from the San Art Report
for the VNFA (Vietnam
Foundation for the Arts) 2010,
provided by Ms. Zoe Butt,
Co-Director of San Art.

Sàn Art, Exhibtion „Syntax and Diction“, HCMC Vietnam, March 2010

62

MAPPING CULTURAL DIVERSITY

engagement in the cultivation of the arts, San Art
is well-recognised internationally as an important
curatorial facilitator for visiting professionals
seeking contact with artists in Vietnam and the
broader South-East Asian region. Since its incep-
tion, 67 local, 12 regional and 19 international
artists have cooperated with San Art. The organi-
sation has launched 23 exhibitions at the San Art
premises and four in the partnering concept store

2 Cite as e-mail interview by
author
3 Ibid.

Sàn Art, Film Screening and Discussion, HCMC Vietnam,
September 2010

L’usine, also in HCMC. Further, it has organised
21 educational programmes.1

San Art is an artist-founded and artist-run non-

proft organisation, which relies on external funds,

international in particular. Among its donors are:
The Vietnam Foundation for the Arts (based in
Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles, established
by Dinh Q. Le), AsiaLink (Australia), Danish
Cultural Development and Exchange Fund, the
Goethe-Institute (Hanoi), Ford Foundation, Japan
Foundation, International Institute of Education
of USA, and the Asian Cultural Council of USA.
The reading materials come from the donations of
the following institutions: Sherman Contemporary
Art Foundation (Sydney), Artforum (New York),
Queensland Art Gallery / Queensland Gallery
of Modern Art (Brisbane), Whitechapel Gallery
(London), Japan Foundation, Massachusetts Col-
lege of Art USA, as well as from private individu-
als.

Creating Conditions for
Artistic Expression

San Art is a good example to represent the spirit
of the UNESCO Convention. One of the main
purposes of the Convention is to create conditions

for cultures and cultural industries to fourish. San
Art fulfls this aim through its objective of flling

the gaps in resources for Vietnamese art, in gen-
eral and contemporary art, in particular that have

existed since the end of the war in 1975. In the

intention of the founders, the organisation’s goal
is to build-up the capacities of Vietnamese art.
The main objectives are:
• To provide more accessible opportunities for
local artists and artistic initiatives, as well as to
expand the exposure of communities in Vietnam
to art, by offering residencies, awards, exchange,
exhibitions and publications;
• To nurture the spirit of creativity by offering
space for local art production and facilitate art-
ists in procuring licences and permits from the
Vietnamese Cultural Ministry;
• To provide an international platform for discus-
sion and creative expression as well as to help
expand the networks of artists and artistic group-
ings;

• To advance the knowledge on contemporary
art in Vietnam by sharing curatorial and artistic
experiences and expertise; and,
• To build a resource centre for arts managers,
teachers, artists, curators and other creative pro-
fessionals.

San Art supports all forms of creative expres-
sions. As Zoe Butt, Co-Director of the organisa-
tion points out: “Also the ones that go beyond the
stated stereotypes of what the [Vietnamese] Cul-

63

PROTECTING AND PROMOTING CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS

tural Ministry claims to support”.2

San Art man-
ages to balance the support of cultural creativity
in a still challenging environment of Vietnamese
political sensitivity. As she noticed, there are
some improvements in the last year, in terms of
censorship.

San Art’s activities refect the character of the

Convention, which encourage civil societies, non-

proft organisations, public and private institutions

to develop exchange and sharing best practices.
The organisation reinforces partnerships and
promotes exchanges among various communi-
ties. San Art, which has been established by the
Vietnamese Diaspora (the so-called “Viet Kieu”)
works as a bridge to link local and international
cultural practitioners (including visual and per-

forming artists, flm makers, fashion designers,

curators, historians and museum professionals)
and facilitate exchanges among new talent. It also
cooperates with local and national institutions
such as universities (HCMC Fine Art University)

and other non-proft organisations (such as Me
Phim, HCMC flm organisation; Dia Projects, an

artist-run reading room, New Space Arts, a non-

proft in Hue, the capital of Thừa Thiên – Huế
province; Hanoi DocLab, a video and flm cen-
tre). In November 2010 San Art cooperates with
the Goethe Institute on two projects: Open Aca-
demy, an educational programme with German
artists visiting Vietnam to present their works;
and 12 Vietnamese contemporary artists, a pub-
lication to be launched in HCMC. With such an
expanded network, the organisation is emerging
as a multi-dimensional artistic and educational
platform, relevant to Vietnamese and international
interest groups.

Strengthening Mutual Cooperation in
Vietnam and Beyond

Article 13 of the Convention reaffrms promot-
ing culture as a pillar and strategy for sustain-
able development. San Art, in particular its
co-director, Zoe Butt holds the following view:
“Every evolving society must understand the
crucial contribution artists make to the fabric of
that community’s cultural psyche […]. Artists
contribute to the way cities are mapped, experi-
enced, lived and moved through. It is essential
that their voices be given space and also that
their voice be valued by provision of infrastruc-
ture where their works can be archived in some
way (galleries, museums, libraries, university,
etc)”.3

Moreover, San Art is not only concerned
with issues in Vietnam, but also aims to support
wider cultural development in Southeast Asia
by strengthening mutual cooperation and expe-
rience sharing. In the past, it has collaborated
with Malaysian and Singaporean artists. It plans

to further expand partnerships with other South-
East Asian communities.

As an independent proactive organisation, San Art
has many ideas for future programmes. Its priori-
ties for future development include employing a
curatorial assistant at San Art to provide train-
ing. It needs more support from passionate local
people involved, who could take the reins of the
organisation in the future. Other goals include
acquiring a better space to showcase Vietnamese
art and establishing strategic relationships with
other organisations for exchange on a regular
basis. San Art also needs to conduct an evaluation
of its work, which it has not done so far, in order
to advance its outreach, especially internationally.

However, as with other non-profts, it struggles

with the funding issues. These goals need funds;
hence, budget is a high priority right now.

San Art plays an important role in developing and
promoting artistic expressions as well as in rais-
ing the exposure of audiences to contemporary art.
Recognising the need for expanded artistic net-
works and capacity building in Vietnam, it works
towards narrowing the existing gaps. San Art
organises multi-disciplinary projects, encourages
innovative initiatives and enhances cultural devel-
opment as well as cultural cooperation. With the
challenging environment in Vietnam, particularly
in contemporary art, the organisation sets a good
example by serving as a platform for fostering the
diversity of artistic expressions. In doing so, San
Art, along other independent regional platforms, is
contributing to bettering conditions for innovation
and creativity in this developing region.

More information: www.san-art.org

Huong Le Thu is a PhD candidate in Inter-
disciplinary Asia-Pacific Studies at National
Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan. She con-
ducts researches on Southeast Asian regionalism
and the identity formation Asia-Europe cultural
inter-regionalism, and the cultural development in
Vietnam. She is a Fellow of the U40-programme
since 2009 and is an associated researcher of the

Asia Pacifc Regional Centre of the CultureLink

Network, established by the Korean Commission
for UNESCO.

64

MAPPING CULTURAL DIVERSITY

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