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Bui Thanh Tam

Bui Thanh Tam was born in Thai Binh Provence of Vietnam in 1979 and graduated from the Vietnam Fine Art University in 2009. He experienced growing up in the “thoi bao cap” – the very difficult period of rationing and rebuilding following the Vietnamese civil war. His family along with their tight knit neighborhood was filled with traditional Vietnamese culture, rituals and history. Once he left his hometown for University, he experienced much more of the modern prosperity present in Vietnam.

While in school, like many other students, he took part-time jobs to help pay for his expenses. One of these jobs was that of a bartender at a local watering hole. There he saw and experienced some of the seamier side effects of modernization including extreme materialism and sins of excess. These experiences, along with his observation that much of the traditional Vietnamese culture was falling by the wayside have been very influential on Bui Thanh Tam’s artistic intentions. The artist isn’t opposed to western culture, which he calls “civilized, progressive, and compelling”. He is however concerned with forgetting and the loss in meaning of important aspects of traditional Vietnamese culture in the modern age.

In his series “Crazy People”, Tam uses aspects of traditional Vietnamese culture to caricaturize and evoke pity in the newly minted class of the ‘nouveaux-riche’ in Vietnam. With faces like Vietnamese water puppets, these people are depicted as hedonistic and shallow, using the veneer of traditional Vietnamese culture to show off their ignorance of the meaning and context of that appropriation. His paintings often use juxtaposition on many levels to share different aspects of contemporary Vietnamese life. For instance, many of his paintings feature images of traditional Vietnamese art in the background while in the foreground, stylized women wear traditional clothing, printed with subtle figures and scenes of Vietnamese folklore. The positioning points to the growing use of the traditional purely as an aesthetic, removing the images from their historical context and lessons.

On a less symbolic level, Bui Thanh Tam also uses bright colors to paint engaging pieces, that feel happy and energetic in a way that the spirit of many of his paintings contradict. His commentary contains elements of parody, intended to be laughed at and pitied, as opposed to images of modern Vietnam intended to be reviled.

Upon graduation from university, Bui Thanh Tam immediately began examining cultural paradigms and expressing his opinions on his canvases. Many of his works feature individuals with large, expressive, detailed features intended to be amusing, humorous and ironic while at the same time striking a semi painful, discordant and/or bitter tone. Present especially in his animated and bulging eyes, these faces project confusion and disillusionment, reflecting the emptiness of the ‘nouveaux-riche’ as they have embraced Western culture, including its negatives.

His work has won multiple prizes and been featured in solo and group exhibitions in Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, The Netherlands and Thailand. Bui Thanh Tam is an artist with a vision and a passion to create. An artist that other artists and critics alike will keep an eye on as he continues growing and developing his style and technique in the future.

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