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Labour of love

No 3, Vol.10 , September  -  October 2015

Artworks made by Mr Dinh Nhat Tan

Fascinated by hundreds of decorative wooden products on a website I found, I made an appointment with Mr Dinh Nhat Tan at his small workshop in Nha Be District, Ho Chi Minh City. On the website, I learned that he was born in 1981. He is a H’re, an ethnic minority in the west of Quang Ngai Province. He graduated in Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Art. From 2004 to 2011, he had many oil painting exhibitions in domestic and foreign countries.

He looks different from what I imagine about an ethnic person. Mr Tan is elegant and good-looking.
Piles of woods lie in disorder in the courtyard. Three H’re young men are absorbed at working on logs with chisels. In a corner, a group of wooden statues are looking at me. Some of them are a-half-metre in height with a thin round iron face painted with black and white colours, a long thin wooden body carved with patterns and a scraggy iron neck, hands and legs. Other wooden statues are a metre in height with round big eyes, open smile showing teeth, a bun on a head or scattered hairs and patterns carved on the body. On a shelf are an array of wooden candle holders in many shapes and a variety of odd wooden masks. All of them make me think of wooden statues at graves of highlanders.

Mr Tan gets inspiration from H’re culture, however, he adds creative details to products to depict his feelings and meet the customers’ needs. Also, he combines iron and wood to create the products.
 
He tells me that in his village, everyone usually holds a ‘New Rice Festival’ to celebrate a good harvest. Mask is a necessary thing in the festival. Villagers wear them, hold hands and dance together. Masks help cover the appearance and position of those who wear them. It is a bridge connecting rich and poor people - those who rarely communicate with each other in ordinary days. Besides, they often wear masks in a hunt. The masks look strange and scary to chase the wild beast away.

I am surprised when he says that he knows nothing about sculpture art. He learned painting in the university. Three years ago, he went to Central Highlands and saw many lũa logs thrown away in the villages. Lũa is a durable and hard wood. It withstands being attacked by termites and other insects. It is also difficult to ignite, so people rarely use it to make a fire. The wood is usually wasted, so he began to collect it and bring it home, although at first, he did not know to do with it. His workshop became full of the wood. Many people called him ‘crazy’. Then he started working on them for pleasure. The first products took a long time. However, tools, including chisels and axes, not to mention the patterns and postures of statues are very familiar to the H’re people. So, the products are created easily and naturally by them. Day by day, more and more products were born in his sudden inspiration and filled the workshop. Some products, he did not what they were or for what they would be used. He did not dare boast of his crafted products to his friends because he thought they were not elaborate works of art. But his friends came by and complimented him on the products. They promoted them to other their friends. More and more people came and bought them for decoration.
Recently, a friend has been helping him create a website called Lem Décor. ‘Lem’ in H’re means ‘simple beauty.’ Now, his products also are available at Yankee Candle’s showrooms in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang.

Mr Tan has postponed his painting and focuses on this craft because it can help other H’re people who have no skills. He loves to teach them. He feels sad every time visiting home, which has been affected by lowland culture. H’re children’s future as well as his village is adrift and without orientation.

Ugly, rough and disused logs are given souls by him to become beautiful artworks hiding a special meaning. I do not know why, but it is interesting to touch the surface of wood and admire his wooden statues.n

Lem decor
These wooden products, including candle holders, light holders and decorative objects, are made by H’re artist Dinh Nhat Tan. The prices start from VND800,000 to VND2,000,000. His workshop is located at 16A Nguyen Binh St, Nha Be Dist., Ho Chi Minh City. Also, the products are available at Yankee Candle’s showrooms:
* Diamond Plaza, 4th Floor, 34 Le Duan St, Dist.1, HCMC
* Vincom Centre, Floor L3-11, 910 A Ngo Quyen St, Son Tra Dist., Danang
* The Garden Shopping Centre, Floor G-D033, Me Tri St, Nam Tu Liem Dist., Hanoi.
Tel: 0914 867 293; Website: www.lemdecor.com

Text and photo by Kha Tu Anh
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