Cong Kim Hoa

Cong Kim Hoa (b. 1962; B.A. Hanoi Industrial Fine Art University 1985) is one of a handful of female artists who solely paints in lacquer. She is an artist attentive to the crosscurrents of life as a mother, teacher, mentor and environmentalist. Hoa was drawn to lacquer painting as her medium of expression partly because lacquer painting was difficult and arduous and provided her with novel and enduring challenges. Through the detailed layering of lacquer, Hoa reflects the rhythm of her own life and that of the Vietnamese woman.

Humility is a virtue very much at the essence of Vietnamese society and is required for the intense discipline and practice associated with the execution of lacquer paintings. Just as there are often as many as forty layers of lacquer, pigments and inclusions associated with each painting, there are also many layers of meaning associated with each of her works. Understanding them requires the viewer to move beyond the visual text to interpret and understand the quiet voices from beneath the surface. Her artistic semi-abstract motifs are full of color and geometric representations of faces, fish, lotus flowers and other elements associated with traditional daily life.

Hoa’s works mingle the realities of traditional and modern life and often portray a vision that is suggestive of both the familiar and the unusual or unexpected. Her unique artistic work, loosely defined as expressionism juxtaposed with the disquieting potential of surprise, is instantly recognizable. Her exceptional artistic sense represents an important strength representative of her Vietnamese heritage but, while her work has captured acclaim and the popular imagination outside of Vietnam, it sits uneasily with the stereotypical notions of Vietnamese women’s artistic genre within the country.

Hoa is part of a new generation of Vietnamese female artists who have bypassed the ritual representations of feminine identity in order to explore her cultural heritage and convey her artistic vocabulary in ways that counter patriarchal stereotypes of womanhood. Although her art has sources in the allegories and traditions of her own cultural history, Hoa belongs to a generation of Vietnamese artists who, in a sense, have been liberated from tradition by a previous generation. These earlier artists were drawn to Social Realism which they embraced with their own forms of hybrid expression in their art. However, in her own artistic practice, Hoa has consciously worked to resist becoming alienated from her own cultural roots despite the formidable influence of both contemporary multiculturalism and the long years of Vietnam’s tumultuous political history.

Her paintings are found, among others, in the collections of the Crown Prince of Norway and the National Art Gallery of Malaysia. She has represented Vietnam in exhibitions and workshops throughout the world including Japan, China, Germany, Singapore, Denmark, France, Argentina, Laos, Australia, USA, Thailand, Israel, Netherlands, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Taken from “Cong Kim Hoa - Lacquer Paintings” by Shireen Naziree with forward by Phan Cam Thuong. Published by Jorn Middelborg of Thavibu Gallery and Art Advisory, Bangkok, Thailand as well as other insights from my conversations held with Cong Kim Hoa over our many years of friendship.

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