Stepping into the cool atmosphere of Kim Ngan Temple on Hang Bac Street, Gemma Bone, a tourist from England, was amazed by an installation of various hats made of dried leaves that covered the front yard and gate.
She was overwhelmed with the tranquil images of the Vietnamese countryside, right in the heart of the busy Old Quarter.
“It’s really beautiful,” she told Viet Nam News, looking at green silk swathes hanging down from the temple’s ceiling, scattered with hats. “[The installation] is highly skilled and perfect. I love the idea of combining traditional [material] and modern [art] like this.
“The hanging silk seems to create a space that I want to go through,” she said.
Bone was among hundreds of tourists, mostly foreigners, appreciating the ongoing installation works of traditional handicraft products at four tourism venues in the Old Quarter, namely Kim Ngan Temple on Hang Bac Street, Dong Lac Temple on Hang Dao Street, Old House at No 87 Ma May Street, and the Old Quarter Information Office at 28 Hang Buom Street.
“The programme aims to promote traditional handicrafts that used to exist inside the Old Quarter a few centuries ago, and are still thriving in villages surrounding the capital,” said Chu Thuy Nga, an official from the Old Quarter Management Department.
Nga said the programme was among regular cultural activities celebrating traditional cultures throughout the year in the Old Quarter area.
This time, conical hats, bamboo fans, traditional musical instruments and wooden drums are the centrepieces of northern handicrafts.
“We have tried our best to invite local artisans to come here to demonstrate their crafts to tourists,” Nga said. “Except one artisan from Dao Xa traditional musical instrument village who cannot attend due to bad health, the other three artisans we invited from the typical handicraft villages of Chi Le (conical hat), Chang Son (bamboo fan) in former Ha Tay province (now part of Ha Noi), and Doi Tam (drum) in Ha Nam Province are here to make the installation vivid.”
According to artisan Vu Thi Thong, 76, who has made conical hats since she was seven, all of her three sons and their families are following in her footsteps, earning a living from making hats from dried plants.
“Although few city dwellers wear conical hats, people in rural areas still wear the traditional products which are waterproof and protect people from the sun,” she said. “We make a living from the hats, which can be bought as special gifts to foreigners and for export.”
Artist Nguyen Manh Duc, who is in charge of the installation works, said a team of four artists were invited to join the programme, who then travelled to the villages to choose the materials and meet with artisans.
They then created their installation works in keeping with the aesthetics of the old temples and architecture around them.
Each of the artists found a different way to “conquer” the creative atmosphere, the key to which was the acting artisans, Duc said.
For example, Nguyen Hong Hai, who has created works based on conical hats, was inspired by local markets at Chi Le Village.
He set up a market scene with women wearing conical hats and ao toi (rain coats made of dried leaves).
The whole market space was covered with long green silk cloth and the flat hats of old Kinh Bac people. The creative ceiling brings a feeling of being protected, like the feeling people have when they wear the hats.
Nguyen Huy An, who worked with bamboo fans, made an arch from bamboo fans, like that of an old village gate at Dong Lac Temple.
Nga said after the exhibitions closed at the end of this month, the venues would be used to display folk toys on the occasion of Mid Autumn Festival for children, and other handicrafts such as jewellery making from Chau Khe Village in Hai Duong Province or Dinh Cong Village of Hanoi, where many of today’s residents on Hang Bac Street come from.
The venues are among the most popular destinations for tourists in the Old Quarter, which welcomes around 200 visitors per day in peak seasons (March-April and September-October), according to statistics from the department.