I had no idea about Tam Thanh Mural Village until my father’s friend spoke about his recent trip to a fishing village outside of Hoi An that had mural art. Murals? Art? Why did I not know about this? My interest was instantly piqued and I knew I had to go.
Tam Thanh Mural Village is about a 1–1.5 hour drive south of Hoi An and is well worth the day trip. On first glance, it seems like just another coastal village, its charm founded upon its lack of chaos. But then I glimpse the splashes of colour and catch sight of the vibrant murals painted onto the side of the houses, and so what initially seems like just another small fishing village instead becomes an art project brought to life.
The Tam Thanh Mural Village is a joint Vietnamese–Korean initiative promoting ‘art for a better community’ that saw Vietnamese and South Korean artists, as well as volunteers, coming together in June 2016 to paint over 100 murals in this village, inspired by South Korea’s own mural villages. The aim was to create a reason for visitors to descend on this poor fishing village in the bid to increase its economic wealth. It is the first project of this kind in Vietnam.
The wall murals are vivid and bold, mainly depicting portraits of local faces and scenes from everyday Vietnamese life. They are found on the side of houses and lurking down alleys, every turn uncovering another surprise, every corner divulging another secret. I don’t what to expect or where to even find the murals, and I feel as though I am participating on a self-guided art walk—albeit one without a map.
The concept of the mural village adds an element of social awareness and accessibility to art, which serves as the grounding for the ethos of this project: art and appreciation for art is not, and should not be, purely reserved for the privileged; and art, at its core, can be a way to bring people together, whether in its development or in its appreciation. This foundation of community draws me in knowing that I am admiring art for a cause, as opposed to admiring art for art’s sake. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t admire art as an individualist pursuit, but knowing the social impact of the art, for me at least, further enhances the beauty of the murals.
Apart from a couple of other people walking around with SLRs, we are, for the most part, the only tourists there: discovering, appreciating, connecting. Locals smile and go about their daily routines, unbothered by the injection of colour that has washed over the town. Occasionally, they point out hidden murals that we may have missed.
Perhaps it is not so much about ‘art for a better community’ but, rather, a ‘better community for art’.
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