Insight Into the Aspirations of a Sculpture Teacher

Devoted to teaching sculpture for more than 15 years, Nguyen Hoang Anh, 48, said that he loves watching his talented young students grow and share their gifts with the world.

Anh graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sculpture materials in 1985 and in sculpture in 1991. He has worked as a teacher for the Department of Sculpture of  the Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts ever since. In 2007, Anh obtained a master’s degree in fine arts.

Unlike painting, sculpture is not very popular among Vietnamese, Anh said. Only a handful of students who have a passion for this kind of plastic art enroll in the department every year.

Even after five years of strenuous study, not many graduates can get a career or earn a good living as a sculptor. Due to limited appreciation by the public, many prefer to buy artistic statues at lower prices and display them in their houses for decorative purposes. As a result, it’s hard for a sculptor to sell his art works at acceptable prices.

Located in Binh Thanh District, the recently rebuilt university where Anh works has modern architecture. Displayed in corridors leading to his office are striking sculptures of high aestheticism made of stone, wood, gypsum or plastic and by students. They are made by hand without the aid of modern labor tools. 

There is a lack of equipment at the department, Anh said.

“My students have to cut or carve wood or stone or casting aluminum and bronze and so on, but the school does not have any decent workshops to facilitate their work,” he said. “Compared to the modern workshops in the universities of fine arts in Thailand or Korea, one can appreciate my student’s effort in learning and creating. I have had students whose art works won first and second prizes in prestigious national exhibitions.”
Anh also emphasized that the department used a dated curriculum.

“Our curriculum”, said Anh,  “is based on that of Indochina Fine Arts School between 1945 – 1954,  and still focused on the classic sculpture and indoor sculptural. International sculptors experimented with outdoor sculptures so many years ago. The works of this modern form of public art are of increasing  interest to many people in the world as they reflect the local historical and cultural characteristics, or the overall development of each city in a country as well as enhancing an artistic image.”

Anh pointed out that although students in the department are given lessons about the urban sculpture in their fourth year, they get only sparse knowledge, not enough to allow them to build up a vision of this modern form of art. Urban sculpture requires a vast knowledge of outdoor light, environment and space. The public must be able to appreciate an outdoor sculptural work at their speed of viewing.

With an ambition to offer the best training to students, the administration of the school is now working on a plan to renovate the curriculum of the sculpture department.   “To make such a renovation possible”, said Anh, “top priority should be given to the building of modern workshops for students. This depends on generous funding from the public purse and thus will need time, I guess.”  

Without the aid of labor-saving tools and with little funding, students can work only on inexpensive materials like wood, cement and plastic which are not viewed as ideal materials for sculptural work, Anh said.

In an effort to give focus to student study and creativity in such unfavorable conditions, the department has organized annual sculpture exhibits at the university for eight years now.  Awards are funded from contributions made by teachers at the university, as well as local sculptors and sponsors including the Ngu Hanh Son Company.

The purpose of the exhibitions is to make sculptures more popular to local viewers by helping them understand that sculptural works are not artistic statues so they can enjoy the aestheticism of fine sculptures.
Anh also lauded international sculpture camps annually organized in national festivals. He said that such camps provide a window on the world, not only for sculptors and sculptural students, but also for local people to enjoy the art works made by international sculptors which reflect the ethos of their own countries.

 “This is a good chance to attract the public’s attention to sculpture,” Anh said  “Like other local sculptors, I look forward to a day when sculpture becomes more popular with the public and take its rightful position among the genres of arts so that my students can be proud of their career as well as can earn a good living thanks to it.”
Talented sculptor Nguyen Hoang Anh has created dozens of masterpieces in bronze, granite and stone, many of which have won awards in national exhibitions. Some are displayed at the HCMC Fine Arts Museum and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

Phuong Lan

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