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A new life for bamboo

No 3, Vol.11 , October – November 2015


A truc chi painting depicting Buddha and his followers displayed at Lieu Quan Buddhism Centre in Hue. Photo: Ngo Dinh Bao Vi

Since its debut in 2012, trúc chỉ, a kind of paper, has overwhelmed the market segment of creative interior and handmade items.
The paper has been used for walls, room separators, sign boards, and pillar covers in many buildings in HCM City, Dalat, Hoi An, Danang and Hue.
Trúc chỉ also serves as a trendy material for wallets, passport holders, hand fans, jewellery boxes, candle covers, handbags, and postcards.
But the popularity of trúc chỉ products in the market is not as strong as its incursion into art community. The paper made from bamboo has also replaced ordinary materials used in making umbrellas, conical hats, and lanterns and with it, these things turn into art items.

Lanterns and paintings made with truc chi in an exhibition in Lieu Quan Buddhism Centre in Hue. Photo: Ha Nguyen

Artists in the US, the UK, France, Belgium, Japan, Thailand and in different localities around Vietnam who have had a chance to use the paper have been amazed at the effects that trúc chỉ has on paintings, portrait prints and calligraphy work.
Many artists from the Vietnam Fine Arts Association have affirmed that they have gained and regained inspiration thanks to the paper. Those include Tran Anh Phi, Nguyen Hong Phuong, Ngo Dinh Bao Vi and other artists.
Phi started working on trúc chỉ when he was a student in Hue College of Art. He won several prizes with products that used the paper as its main material. ‘The paper is very special and it gives me strong visualization of art subjects,’ he says.

Truc chi painting, hand fan and candle holders. Photo: Ngo Dinh Bao Vi

Phi used the paper for his final graduation work in May and he is now a trúc chỉ artist in the only workshop producing the paper in Hue.
‘The paper trúc chỉ is made from bamboo, instead of wood pulp,’ says Phan Hai Bang, the artist who initiated and has practiced making the paper since 2002. ‘Trúc chỉ is a kind of paper, certainly, but it has its own spirit and it is beyond the boundary of familiarity to those who get chance to have it in an art work.’

A conical hat made of truc chi that perfectly replaces the traditional palm leaf. Photo: Ngo Dinh Bao Vi

The artists produce the paper by cutting bamboo trees into sections and slicing those into thin sticks, which are soaked in water for a night and then cooked in solvent lime for half a day to make them softer before being grilled into bamboo pulp.
The pulp is then mixed with water in a mould to create a sheet of paper after a long process of sun drying. Prior to the drying process, the adding of graphic designs will help to turn the rustic paper into a piece of art.
This process makes each sheet of paper a unique work of art. ‘Patterns on a sheet of trúc chỉ can be seen or exposed when light goes through it,’ Bang says, adding that trúc chỉ paper products have the most attractive look with light effects.
The year of 2014 has brought fame to the inspiring paper as it made headlines on local Vietnamese newspapers and English language magazines. Art communities in the country and internationally began to turn their attention to the unique paper and its marvellous applications.
Several artists have made notable achievements with the paper. Phi and Vi won encouragement prizes at the national Young Artist Symposium held in Hanoi in August 2014. The Hanoi-based painter, Phuong, won third prize at the Capital (Hanoi) Art Prize contest later, using trúc chỉ and graphic prints.
A number of exhibitions in different types and styles of trúc chỉ in HCM City, Hoi An, and Hue has given the paper a sound standing in the market segment of handicraft products that could represent the Vietnamese soul.

Truc chi paintings made by the artist Tran Anh Phi at Hue College of Arts. Photo: Ha Nguyen

‘Trúc chỉ hand fans, postcards, and wallets are at top gift items that local residents send abroad for friends,’ says Vi, who is working at the workshop as a product manager.
Bars and restaurants in tourism hubs of Danang and Hoi An pick trúc chỉ as the best material for interior decoration, making more demands on the handicraft paper.
But the greatest motivation to the team of trúc chỉ artists comes from local experts, who are thirsty for a kind of material that could evoke a nostalgic sense and be artistic at the same time.
‘The reenacting of ancient graphic heritage matches well with something in relation with the Vietnamese old countryside, particularly in this case, bamboo and trúc chỉ, the paper made from bamboo,’ says Nguyen Huu Thong, a cultural researcher.
Thong adds that basic colour tone of trúc chỉ makes very good harmony with presentation of old nostalgic patterns. ‘Trúc chỉ is the type of paper that we have sought for a long period of time,’ Thong affirms.
The trúc chỉ team of Bang, Vi, Phi and several others are working hard on large paintings of Buddha for a Theravada pagoda in Hue. Almost every resident in the former feudal capital city considers stuff related to Buddhism an honourable task, as the city is a popular destination for Buddhism pilgrimage.
While Vi and Phi find a lot energy to create more unique products on trúc chỉ, Bang has a broader vision. ‘I expect the paper could enhance the craftsmanship of artisans in traditional craft villages in Hue and around the country,’ he says.
‘My dream is to unite handicraft skills, including bamboo knitting, paper picture making, or embroidery with trúc chỉ, targeting Vietnamese crafts standing firm in the list of outstanding craftsmanship globally.’
In Hue, trúc chỉ products can be found at a stand in the pedestrian Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street that runs along the Huong River’s section near famed Truong Tien Bridge.
Those want to have a hand in performing the techniques of trúc chỉ should park at 4 Trieu Quang Phuc Street, where the Truc Chi workshop is located. Wider choices of trúc chỉ products can be found at the nearby exhibition house at 5 Thach Han Street. Both places are behind the former Imperial Palace in Hue.n

By Ha Nguyen
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