Monday, February 15, 2010

Jill Krementz covers Arts of Ancient Viet Nam

April 10, 1966. Saigon: Vien Hoa Dao Pagoda. While Thich Tri Quong held a press conference inside one of the main buildings, these Buddhist girls were playing ring-a-round-a-rosy outside. The girls dance and sing every Sunday afternoon.
Arts of Ancient Viet Nam
From River Plain to Open Sea

Asia Society Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street)
February 2-May 2, 2010

Twenty years in the making, this exhibition of ancient art from Viet Nam has come to New York's Asia Society following its premiere at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) where it was curated by independent scholar, Dr. Nancy Tingley.

The exhibit is expansive with approximately 110 objects dating from the first millennium BCE through the 17th century. It is the first time many of these works have been exhibited in the United States, and it is the first time many of these objects have traveled outside of Viet Nam. On view: ritual bronzes, terra cotta burial ware, fine gold jewelry, large-scale Hindu and Buddhist sculptures and ornaments made of jade, lapis lazuli, crystal and carnelian.

I spent a year, from August 1965 to August 1966, in what was then called South Vietnam, based in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. I went there because I wanted to photograph the Vietnamese people — the people in a country caught up in a rapidly escalating war. It seemed to me that I was only seeing photographs of our troops. I wanted to learn about the inhabitants of a country few of us knew much about. It was clear to me then that there was a strong cultural heritage that could not be ignored. Will we ever learn?

I hope you will visit Asia Society to see the beautiful treasures from a country which has not only survived, but is thriving. Today Viet Nam is one of the top tourist attractions in the world. And it deserves to be.
Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street).
Map of Viet Nam at entrance to Arts of Ancient Viet Nam exhibition. Young Vietnamese girl in front of poster of South Viet Nam. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
Melissa Chiu, Director of The Asia Society, stands beside Gajasimha, Champa period, 12th–13th century.

The site of Thap Mam in Binh Dinh Province yielded many sculptures, including numerous fantastic beasts like this gajasimha (elephant-lion). The region thrived from the eleventh to the thirteenth century when patrons constructed a large number of temples there. Thap Mam style is characterized by monumentality and the use of big, broad surfaces as background for ecstatic patterning. This gajasimha, one of a pair, stood a good distance from the front of the main shrine and was undoubtedly intended as a guardian figure that demarcated sacred space. The two massive gajasimha, with their stylized elephant heads and lion bodies, would have created a formidable deterrent to anyone with ill intent.
Dr. Nancy Tingley, Curator of the Exhibition, stands in front of Dharmapala, Champa period, 9th century.

This figure is one of the eight fierce dharmapala (guardians of the law) that protected the gates of the Dong Duong monastery complex. A Sanskrit inscription found at the complex states that King Jaya Indravarman II established the monastery in 875. The text records that Indravarman honored the Hindu linga Bhadreshvara (Shiva) and the bodhisattva Lokeshvara, erected an image of the Buddha, established Dong Duong as a monastic community, and dedicated all of its property to the bodhisattva Sri Lakshmindra-Lokeshvara. The Dong Duong guardians may represent a specific group of dharmapala that first appeared in Tibetan and East Asian art in the eighth century.
Fu Nan period, late 7th century
Thuy Lieu Village, An Giang Province
Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, BTLS 5977

The lintel of a Southeast Asian temple, positioned above the doorway, served as the sculptural focus for the temple’s entrance and provided a large surface for deep relief carving. The lintel framed the image of the primary deity inside and was one of the first views the devout had of the building. As in this example, early lintels often included a curved arch that imitated wooden prototypes.
Fu Nan period,
mid-7th century
Bien Hoa Village, Dong Nai Province

This elegant sculpture of Vishnu was discovered in the Dong Nai riverbed in 1976. Stylistically and chronologically, however, it relates to a famous group of Vaishnavite (relating to Vishnu) images found in Phnom Da, near Angkor Borei. Angkor Borei was an early inland city of the Fu Nan culture, located today in Cambodia, and apparently connected by canals to Fu Nan’s coastal centers. The discovery of this work at a great distance from Angkor Borei raises the question of whether the sculpture was transported to its findspot.
Fu Nan period, 7th century
Long Dai Village, Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province

This bodhisattva is depicted in a relaxed pose,
similar to that of sculptures from seventh-
century Cambodia and Thailand. We know little
about the practice of Buddhism during the Fu
Nan period, but the occurrence of bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who forego attaining
enlightenment in order to assist others on their path) indicates that a form of Mahayana Buddhism existed in the Mekong area, as it did in Thailand during the same period. The slightly flaring skirt, bent knee, and outthrust hip give this figure a sense of movement.
Fu Nan period, 7th–8th century
Luu Nghiep An Village, Tra Vinh Province
Stone Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City

The bull’s head on the base of this sculpture identifies this figure as Durga, an important Hindu goddess. Durga is worshipped independently, but is also considered to be a form of Parvati, Shiva’s consort. According to Hindu tradition, when Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu proved unable to defeat the demon Mahisha, the task fell to Durga. She vanquished the demon while he was in bull form, an act that came to symbolize religious attainment or victory. All four of Durga’s hands would originally have brandished weapons, but only the dagger in her upper right hand and the shield in her upper left are extant.
Fu Nan period, 7th–8th century
Ba The Village, An Giang Province
Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City

Surya, the sun god, is an important generative
force derived from Indian Vedic and other solar
deities. When portrayed without his chariot
and attendants, he can be distinguished by the
two lotuses he holds and his heavy clothing.
Early images of Surya have been found in many
areas of Southeast Asia. His importance derives
not only from his independent identity as sun
god, but also from his close association with
the Hindu god Vishnu. In this sculpture, Surya’s
headdress recalls that of Vishnu, although this
headdress has an octagonal form, rather than
the more common circular shape.
Champa period, 8th century
Temple C1, My Son site,
Quang Nam Province
Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture

By the seventh century, Shiva, Lord of the Mountain, was the most revered of the Hindu gods in Cham society. The valley of My Son, where this sculpture comes from, is dominated by Mount Mahaparvata, a particularly sacred place for the Cham people. King Bhadravarman, who combined his name with Shiva’s (Bhadreshvara) established a Shiva linga at My Son in the fifth century, and this became the primary icon of Cham worship. Shiva takes multiple forms, and while many Shaivite temples contain a linga as the primary object of worship, others include anthropomorphic images. Here Shiva is portrayed as an ascetic with matted locks.
Morley Safer, 60 Minutes Correspondent who was was in Viet Nam in 1965, 1966 and 1967 at various times covering the war for CBS. "I spent my downtime at the Danang Museum. What's remarkable about that tiny museum is that when the place collapsed nothing went missing."
Male Figure
Champa period, 9th century
Dong Duong site, Quang Nam Province
Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture
11th century
Hue Museum of Royal Fine Arts (present-day Hue Royal Antiquities Museum)
Female Figure
Late 15th century
Cu Lao Cham shipwreck
Stoneware painted with
underglaze cobalt blue
and overglaze enamels
National Museum of Vietnamese History

This figurine, dressed in Chinese-style clothing, may have been
intended for Chinese living in island Southeast Asia. The artist
paid a great deal of attention to the garments of the female figure;
in addition to the fine painting of the textiles, appliquéd motifs
were added to the elaborate hair, the necklace, and the ears. The
remnants of green, red, and gold overglaze indicate the richness of
the original surface adornment.
Champa period, late 12th–13th century
Thap Mam site, Binh Dinh Province
Hue Royal Antiquities Museum

This kinnara, a supernatural being that is half man and half bird, raises its two hands in anjali mudra, the gesture of devotion. The sculpture would have originally been located on the exterior of one of the Thap Mam towers to ward off evil. In Southeast Asia, the kinnara, unlike other minor deities, attained an independent status and was frequently depicted in art. Most often, only the upper torso was shown. In this example, the large, bold patterns of the ornaments encircling the smooth flesh are characteristic of Thap Mam style.
Seated Shiva
Champa period, 15th century
Yang Mum site, Gai Lai Province
Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture, 3.16

By the time this work was created, although Hinduism was still practiced, the Cham population had begun converting to Islam. The frontal symmetry of the god, and the manner in which his legs vanish beneath his lower garment, suggest that the piece may have been created as a kut (ancestor stele), which would become the dominant form of sculpture in this later period. Shiva holds his usual attribute, a trident, and has one-half of a third eye. The partial eye suggests that this figure is only half Shiva; the other half possibly represents an ancestor figure.
May 11, 1966. Near Saigon: A Buddhist altar in a small village. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
May 4, 1966. Hue. Tu Dam Pagoda. The statue at the altar is of Trich Quang Duc, the first Buddhist monk to commit suicide by burning himself to death with gasoline. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
Five young girls looking out of window of their one-room living quarter in a village outside of Saigon, 1966. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
Joseph Poser, a member of the museum who spent three months in India and South East Asia in 2003, inpects Vishnu, Champs Period, 11th century.
Orville Schell and Emily Parker. Mr. Schell is a Director of Asia Society and Ms. Parker is a fellow.
Covered Vessel
Champa period,
12th–15th century
Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City

Silver and bronze containers were regularly given as offerings to temples; some are inscribed, usually with the donor’s name and the god to whom the vessel is dedicated. Many of these vessels have been lost over the centuries, as invading armies took the gold and silver objects as booty. This silver covered container is decorated with rows of lotus petals on its shoulder, body, and base. The bold quality of the decoration is similar to the Thap Mam style and suggests a late date for this piece.
Champa period, 8th–9th century
Van Trach Hoa Village, Phong Dien District,
Thua Thien Hue Province
Thua Thien Hue Historical and Revolutionary Museum

Embellished pedestals, which supported an object of devotion, are a distinctive feature of Cham art, with no comparable form existing in Indian temples. The upper register of this pedestal is carved with images of Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, and a fourth figure holding a kendi (water vessel) in his left hand (the right is broken). On the lower register, rampant lions appear below the four dikpalas (directional deities) on each corner. The presence of the horned Rahu, the ascending node of the moon, on one side, illustrates the Cham inclination to combine the dikpala with the navagraha (nine planets).
Champa period, late 12th–13th century
Thap Mam site, Binh Dinh Province
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

A number of acrobatic lions were found at the site of Thap Mam, both in inverted and upright positions. A corner piece was also discovered, which suggests that the lions were placed around the base of a building. From the earliest period of Viet Nam’s history, prancing and preening lions were used as decorative building supports. This lion stands on his forepaws, and his back legs would have appeared to hold up the structure. The blocky body is typical of Thap Mam sculpture, as is the profuse surface decoration, from the lion’s grimacing face to its curling tail.
Garuda with Naga
Champa period, late 12th–13th century
Thap Mam site, Binh Dinh Province
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

Garuda, Vishnu’s mount, was worshipped independently in Southeast Asia and frequently appeared as a supporting figure on the exterior of Cham temples. In this example, Garuda’s body is anthropomorphized, and the overall impression—except for the beak, the talons, and the wings—is of a human form. Garuda is often depicted with a snake, and here he has overcome a three-headed naga (serpent deity); he holds down the snake’s body with his taloned foot as he bites its tail. Garuda sculptures from Thap Mam are typically shown in three-quarter view, and the wings (broken in this example) are portrayed frontally.
Entrance to Pagoda, 1966. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
December 3, 1965. Portrait of a Vietnamese elder.
Photograph by Jill Krementz.
December 3, 1965. A Vietnamese girl.
Photograph by Jill Krementz.
Harold and Ruth Newman, trustees of Asia Society talking with Museum Director, Melissa Chiu. Michael Roberts, Executive Director of Asia Society's New York Public Programs, with
Orville Schell.
Deanna Lee who is an artist. "I used to work here at the museum as an associate. I visited Viet Nam in 2005." Dr. Nancy Tingley, curator of the exhibition, with Jean and Peter Marks.
Inscription (bottom)
Fu Nan period, 7th–8th century
Go Xoai site, Duc Hoa District, Long An Province
Gold foil
Long An Museum

The text of this inscription indicates that Go Xoai was a Buddhist site, as it records two Buddhist verses, the ye dhamma (Sanskrit, ye dharma) and the duhkha duhkhasamutpada, and two mantras. The ye dharma verse, or the so-called Buddhist creed, is commonly inscribed on Buddhist sculptures and at Buddhist sites. It expresses the important Buddhist concept of dependent origination, and may be translated: Of those things that arise from a cause, The Tathagata [Buddha] has said, “This is their cause, And this is their cessation”: Thus, the Great Recluse teaches.
Sa Huynh culture,
5th century BCE–1st century CE
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

Beads of stone and red, white, and blue glass have been excavated in burial jars of the Sa Huynh culture. While the earliest glass beads found in Southeast Asia were of foreign production, analysis of glass from one Sa Huynh site, and the remains of blue glass found in a jar at another site, indicate the presence of local glass production by the early centuries of the
Common Era.
Sa Huynh culture,
5th century BCE–1st century CE
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

One small, oblong, cylindrical bead in this group appears to have been inlaid in a manner not common to Southeast Asia, suggesting it was likely crafted in India. Carnelian beads were exported to Southeast Asia from India (probably from south India) starting in the first millennium BCE. As the large number of beads discovered at Southeast Asian burial sites suggests, they were an important trade item. These luxury goods were status symbols and were used as decoration; they also may have functioned as magical charms.
Young Vietnamese girls on hand to greet American troops in what was clearly staged as a "photo op" for the press corps. Their girlish glee disappeared once the soldiers arrived, 1966.
Photographs by Jill Krementz.
Sa Huynh culture,
3rd–1st century BCE
Giong Ca Vo site, Ho Chi
Minh City, Ho Chi Minh Province
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

While few human remains have been found at Vietnamese burial sites, twenty-six corpses in sitting
positions were extant at Giong Ca Vo, where this jar, decorated with incised lines and impressed dots, was excavated. The site is located on one of the northern branches of the Mekong River. The high quality and large quantity of ceramics and jewelry found in the burial jars at the site indicate a wealthy and sophisticated community.
Burial Urn with Cover
Sa Huynh culture,
4th–2nd century BCE
An Bang site, Hoi An District,
Quang Nam Province

At least a thousand jars like this one have been excavated in Viet Nam’s Quang Nam and Quang Ngai Provinces since 1975. The jars, placed in the soil vertically, contain offerings that include earthenware ceramics, bronze and iron utensils, and jewelry, some of which were destroyed as part of the burial ritual. The peoples of the Sa Huynh culture are believed to be linguistically related to the peoples ofisland Southeast Asia; it is most likely not coincidental, therefore, that burial jars have also been uncovered elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Lidded Vessel (Han type)
2nd–3rd century CE
Nghi Ve site,
Bac Ninh Province
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

Following a major rebellion against the Chinese in 40 CE, Chinese control in Viet Nam increased, thus beginning a period sometimes referred to as the Han Viet period. Burial goods like this bronze vessel, from Han style tombs in Viet Nam, often combine Chinese and Dong Son motifs. The form of this vessel is Chinese in origin, but the braided handles, with their double spiral motif, are typical of Dong Son ceramics. A Chinese inscription that encircles the neck of this lidded vessel may be translated, “A vessel cast with stars holds one dan [equivalent of 133 pounds, 5ounces]. It is named wansui [ten thousand years], cyclical year guiwei [sixteen].”
Scene in the Mekong Delta. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
Vietnamese women farming, April 1966. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
Chicken-headed Ewer
(Han type)
Dong Son period,
1st–3rd century CE
Glazed stoneware
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

From the first to third century CE, Vietnamese potters produced ceramics in Chinese style for Han tombs, but the vessels produced were never exact copies of the Chinese originals. The fine clay of the Hong (Red) River delta is distinguishable from the coarser clay used for Chinese ceramics of the period, and the Vietnamese modified the Chinese shapes. In the case of this chicken-headed ewer, the everted feet, the ring around the body, and the flat, rectangular handle differ from the Chinese versions of this type of vessel, which are found only in southern China.
Dong Son period,
3rd century BCE
Viet Khe Village, Hai Phong
City, Hai Phong Province
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

Boat burials, in which a wooden boat was used as a coffin, are the most elaborate of the many Dong Son period burials that have been excavated in northern Viet Nam. This dipper was found at one of the five boat burials excavated in Viet Khe Village in 1961. The burial was the only one of the five that contained offerings. 106 bronzes were discovered, including axes, chisels, knives, daggers, swords, vessels, a drum, and a miniature drum, among other objects. Boat burials have been excavated at about fifty sites in northeast Viet Nam and appear to date up to the Common Era.
Dong Son period,
5th–3rd century BCE
Hoang (Mieu Mon) Village,
My Duc District,
Ha Tay Province
National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ha Noi

Bronze drums are the characteristic artifact of the Dong Son culture. Hundreds of drums, some weighing up to 440 pounds (two hundred kilograms), have been found in Viet Nam, southern China, and throughout Southeast Asia. This drum has the rounded shoulders and large size that typify the earliest Dong Son drums. The drums served as regalia, ritual instruments, and burial objects. When played, they were suspended from a crossbar, supported by sticks, over a hole in the ground, which served to enhance their resonance. Craftsmen cast the drums in one piece using the lost-wax technique.
Basin (Han type)
2nd–3rd century CE
Mat Son District,
Thanh Hoa Province
National Museum of Vietnamese History

Chinese influence began in northern Viet Nam in the late second century BCE, and in 40 CE the Chinese Han dynasty established significant political control over the region. Tombs dating from this period differ from Dong Son tombs; they are subterranean and consist of multiple barrel-vaulted chambers. While they are similar in structure to contemporary tombs found in China, they were constructed of decorated brick that retained Dong Son decorative traits. The artist of this basin, found in a Han style tomb, seems to have misunderstood the common Dong Son motif of figures with feathered headdress, as their overall form is illegible.
April 14, 1966. Near Saigon: A Vietnamese funeral. Relatives in high mourning wearroughly made robes of gauzy cotton. Men wear headpieces of coarsely wound straw and women wear veils. The son of the deceased carries a roughly cut can and he is required to lean upon it, bending low during the procession when the coffin is borne by the pallbearers to the grave site. The photograph of the deceased and various objects and offerings, which have been brought along on a portable altar will be carried home and placed on the family altar. Photographs by Jill Krementz.
The eldest son burning joss. Having returned home, the widow prostrate at the altar in the house of the deceased. Visitors are expected to bring gifts of food, cash or alcohol.
Mourners at the cemetary.
May 11, 1966: At the wedding of my friend Hanh, a Vietnamese hairdresser. Hahn presents the groom to her 86-year-old grandmother.
Pinning a flower on the groom.
A visit to the gift shop on the main floor of the Asia Society. There are many books and treasures relating to the arts of Viet Nam, past and present.
Lisa Falotico, Manager of AsiaStore at the Asia Society. She has impeccable taste. The trays are from Viet Nam.
A wide range of gifts on display in the gift store.
Richard Tsao brings his artistic eye for color to his rich palette of silk designs. Tsao’s exquisite jewel-toned creations are evocative of the rich tropical hues of his native Thailand. The silk that Tsao uses for his designs is not mass-produced and does not undergo mechanized finishing treatments. Hand woven from hand spun pure silk yarn on old-fashioned looms, the painstaking process results in a lustrous fabric with a luxurious texture. It can take up to a year to hone each of his designs. This artisanal quality and attention to detail is part of Thailand’s rich arts and crafts tradition to which Tsao feels deeply connected. Jackets: $325; Scarves: $98-$120.
In addition to clothing, crafts, teas and textiles from around the world, there is a very interesting selection of books.
Little Buddha candles, $1.25.
Japanese gift boxes, $2.50.
Mother of pearl dishes from Vietnam ranging from $22 to $45. Decorative shell "accents" are $15, spoons are $9.
Jewelry by Nina Nguyen.

Nina Nguyen Jewelry defines style with intricate, colourful, artistic creations. Each piece is carefully designed by Nina in her Florida studio and carefully hand-made by skilled artisans in Nina Nguyen Design's, Women's Co-Operative in the rural village of Kontum, Vietnam. Nina is most inspired by her Asian background and her world travels. From a young age, she designed jewelry as a hobby and often helped her uncle, a goldsmith, in his jewelry casting foundry, but it wasn’t until she took a life-changing journey to India that she decided to made a drastic career change by leaving the financial industry and venturing into jewelry design. Each of Nina’s designs are unique and stylish, feminine and empowering.
Decorative ceramics and porcelains from China price range: $6 to $195.
Decorative glassware and metalwork from India price range: $25 to $148.
Japanese iron tea pots.
Canisters holding a variety of teas from Asia, ranging from $11 to $20.
Lunar New Year is the biggest festival in China, and is also celebrated in Korea, Vietnam (where it is known as Tet), and in Chinese communities throughout the world. Millions of people celebrate the 15-day holiday by traveling to see their families. Many customs—such as the lion dance, wearing the color red, and exchanging money—are considered to bring good luck in the coming year. Chinese New Year is defined as the second new moon after the winter solstice; thus it begins sometime between late January and mid-February.

Traditionally, Red Envelopes hold "lucky money" or small, precious gifts such as gold or jade jewelry, and are a fun gift during the Lunar New Year--or for any celebration. Place three coins or bills in an envelope and place atop the frame of a doorway, in your prosperity corner or in your wallet.
Feng Shui ceramic cats; $8.
An assortment of children's books and games.
A full-color, 356-page catalogue, Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: From River Plain to Open Sea, accompanies the exhibition. Price: $60. Member Price: $54.
Young Vietnamese girl in streets of Saigon, April 1966. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
April 1966. Saigon. Vien Hoa Dao: Blindman's buff. Photograph by Jill Krementz.
Saigon: Sunday afternoon at Phu Tho, the race track in Saigon. The track is swept by a mine detector beforehand. Ten to fifteen thousand people attend the track on an average Sunday. The admission fee is eight cents. Both horses and jockeys are strikingly small by Western standards--a good horse may be twelve hands high and a jockey may weigh sixty-five pounds. Horse racing is the favorite sport of the Vietnamese.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.