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Young artist revives Vietnamese Dong Ho folk paintings on peepal leaves

Wednesday, January 13, 2021, 11:04 GMT+7
Young artist revives Vietnamese Dong Ho folk paintings on peepal leaves
A leaf skeleton artwork of Carp Looking at the Moon in the Dong Ho folk painting genre. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

With an ambition to promote and preserve national traditions, a young artist in Ho Chi Minh City has leveraged her passion for leaf-skeleton art to contribute to Vietnam's heritage.

Duong Huong Nhien, a 32 year-old from Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, first began using dead leaves for her paintings when she received a bodhi leaf skeleton as a gift from her friend a year ago.

Nhien’s artworks are seen in the photo at Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Duong Huong Nhien’s artworks are seen in this photo taken in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

At that time, Nhien believed bodhi leaves could be a valuable medium and began creating artwork using leaf skeletons.

Initially, she drew floral patterns which did not really meet her expectations.

She experimented with folk paintings with high hopes of creating unique artisan products.

As her work blew up on different social media platforms, Nhien was overwhelmed with orders of classic designs, such as Boy Sitting on a Buffalo and Playing the Flute, Five Tigers, and Carp Looking at the Moon, for the upcoming Tet festival. 

In the photo, ‘the Boy Sitting on a Buffalo and Playing the Flute’ artwork represents wishes for prosperity, happiness, and luck in the New Year. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

In this photo, the Boy Sitting on a Buffalo and Playing the Flute artwork represents wishes for prosperity, happiness, and luck in the new lunar year. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nhien picks up small-sized leaves from the bodhi plants she grows at home and purchases larger leaves from Ninh Binh in northern Vietnam.

Depending on their intended use, the leaves can be colored in two to three days.

The varieties in color of leaves skeleton after being colored are shown in the picture. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Colorful leaf skeletons are shown in this picture. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

The time it takes to complete a painting depends on its details. 

A difficult artwork often takes Nhien a few days while a simple one takes only a few hours.

Nhien’s drawing on the leaf skeleton can be used on gift boxes, picture frames, or lighting decorations.

Besides folk painting, Nhien also draws Saigon’s street corner. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Besides folk paintings, Duong Huong Nhien also draws street corners in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

“Leaf skeletons are very different from other painting materials," Nhien told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

"Their surfaces have tiny pores.

"I’m also quite limited by the leaf sizes.

"The largest leaves are only about 15-17cm, so when I draw I have to minimize the details of the paintings.”

Nhien’s work ranges in price from VND500,000 (US$22) to over VND1 million (US$43), depending on the content and size of the painting.

In the photo, the picture frame and gift box are adorned by leaf skeletons. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

In this photo, the picture frame and gift box are adorned with leaf skeletons. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nhien performs her skills on a leaf skeleton at Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Duong Huong Nhien showcases her flair on a leaf skeleton in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Nhien performs her skills on a leaf skeleton at Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

Duong Huong Nhien exhibits her skills on a leaf skeleton in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

In the photo, a leaf skeleton is being colored at Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

In this photo, a leaf skeleton is being colored in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

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