Khoa Chim Is Shining A Light On Vietnam’s Traditions For A New Generation

Khoa Chim’s art project, Vietnamme, hopes to give a contemporary perspective on daily objects found in Vietnam. Things like a block of ice dropped into a glass filled with Saigon special. Or swirls of incense. Or Hue Citadel’s Meridian Gate beneath billowing orange clouds. Vietnamme’s founder, Khoa Chim, wants to remind young Vietnamese of their cultural heritage, while giving it a modern facelift. 

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

At first, Khoa Chim is a bit distant; his piercings add to his air of aloofness. But he loosens up when talk turns to his work. “At some time during every cultural period, civilization sought to preserve their culture,” he muses. “This is my generation’s time to do the same…” His approach is wonderfully varied, photos and graphic works, fashion and events. Something like a “creative ecosystem.” 

Khoa Chim is celebrating Vietnamese culture and sharing his passion with a new generation of viewers.

It’s an especially pressing urge considering the dominance of Western culture. “I mean, I get it,” he shrugs, “it’s easy to access and it feels so familiar by now.” His Vietnamme project, through events like last year’s #VIETNAMME01, aims to counteract that cultural dominance by building Vietnam’s cultural currency. 

Still-life works from ‘Vietnam In My Heart’.

This first project was a still-life photography exhibition, Vietnam In My Heart. But it was much more than that too. “The exhibition also provided this experiential space where guests could chat, taste traditional cakes, and access QR codes to learn more about the works. And it was divided into three zones: #Taste of Vietnamme, #Vietnamme Objects, #Vietnamme Projects.…” It was also Khoa Chim’s first art show. 

“Even as a child, I’d challenge myself by dreaming up creative projects.”

“This was a concise realization of the idea of presenting traditional culture in a modern context, taking on inspirations from the world outside Vietnam, but retaining its intrinsic sense of self,” he reminds us. The works in the show present a harmony between traditional and modern, as with his photos of piggy banks and cans of Sá Xị sprouting beautiful flowers.

Sá Xị sprouts flowers in this work by Khoa Chim.

He always set his sights on becoming a creative. “Even as a child, I’d challenge myself by dreaming up creative projects,” he begins. Looking back, he says, they’re like a journal of his creative interests over the years. “But whatever I did, it was always wrapped up in the culture and values of Vietnam.”

“My first proper project was about depression…mostly because the condition was pretty misunderstood in Vietnam. I wanted to clear up some misconceptions and raise awareness…” he explains.

Attention-seeking Khoa Chim: “I needed a bigger audience so my voice could travel further and I could make an even greater impact,”

Like a lot of young artists, he assumed being underground and countercultural was the only way to work. Until this project. It helped him to realize he didn’t hate the attention. “So the project was more significant than simply exploring an urgent topic. It made me realize I needed a bigger audience so my voice could travel further and I could make an even greater impact,” he smiles about embracing the visibility his projects have given him. But he’s also become aware that his reach has limitations, so he’s committed to bringing other influencers and artists aboard to leverage their combined networks. 

Ubiquitous plastic stools, beer. Vietnamese life as photographic still life.

“I guess,” he admits, “I have the creative ‘bug’. If I’m inactive for long – like two or three months – I start to feel really uneasy and uncomfortable.” There are creative blocks, and there’s downtime between projects. “But I view the hard parts like a puzzle,” he explains, “there’s always a solution, sometimes simple and sometimes complex, and it’s up to me to lead my team through the difficulties…”

Khoa Chim knows lots of creatives have the same objective, even if they’re taking different routes.

There’s a lot of people in his generation pursuing the same creative path. Which is reassuring. “Allies, I guess,” he smiles at the name, “or more often friends who may not be on the same road as me, but who definitely share the same destination. It’s nice not to feel alone in this…”

Despite all the tribulations Khoa Chim has experienced during the Vietnnamme project, it has fulfilled lots of his ambitions already. “We’ve done successful projects on Vienamese culture, I’ve given talks about the work, we’ve held exhibitions, we’ve grown our audience dramatically, and we’ve even participated in an international cultural exchange program…” 

Khoa Chim has postponed #VIETNAMME02 until after the COVID crisis eases. and is taking the time to rest his brain…before moving on to the next thing,

The follow up, #VIETNAMME02 was supposed to open this month…until COVID intervened. And since, the work for the show was completed, he’s fallen into another creative funk. “But I decided to let my brain rest, to recharge a bit, and embrace the simple life, and now I’ve fully recovered and I’m on to the next thing. In fact, I’m moving into publishing,” he smiles mysteriously.

The follow up, #VIETNAMME02 was supposed to open this month…until COVID intervened. And since, the work for the show was completed, he’s fallen into another creative funk. “But I decided to let my brain rest, to recharge a bit, and embrace the simple life, and now I’ve fully recovered and I’m on to the next thing. In fact, I’m moving into publishing,” he smiles mysteriously.

Photos by Khooa Nguyen and video by Tuan Jerry and Johnny Viet Nguyen.


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