About Art and Design in Ho Chi Minh City
Art in Vietnam is always contentious, with ongoing battles between creators and state censors. While Hanoi has historically been seen as the heart of contemporary art and culture, it has witnessed a recent lock down on exhibits in the wake of a fully nude performance that unexpectedly went viral on the Internet. At the same time, Saigon's art scene has been on the rise. Two central spots not to be missed by any art enthusiast are Galerie Quyen, a high end contemporary art gallery, and San Art, an artist-run space that hosts exhibitions, lecture series, and residencies.
For a more modern, urban window into the art community, check out Saigon Outcast (www.saigonoutcast.com) in district two. Built in three retrofitted three shipping containers replete with reupholstered antique chairs, Saigon Outcast hosts DJs, movie nights, dance, art workshops--and even a skate ramp. All activities are open and free to the public.
Two quick notes on Vietnamese customs and etiquette. First, Viets are famously candid. They will tell you if you look older, fatter, paler, darker, or good in those jeans. No need to feel alarmed or offended. The honesty is actually good, in a way, because if you get a compliment then you know they really mean it!
Second, there is also a different concept of personal space than in Western countries, so don't be surprised if you feel claustrophobic. Babies cheeks will get pinched, a man's thigh might get squeezed (most likely by another man)--and if there is one millimeter of air between you and the person lined up front of you, then don't be surprised that someone tried to slip in. People don't mean harm--space is just conceived of differently in Vietnam. Take a breath and go along with it.
Saigon has a long history as a site where people and cultures collide. Saigon was originally a small fishing village built over a swampland and inhabited by Khmer people, until Vietnamese took over in the 17th century. In the 19th century, the city became the regional capital of French colonial Cochinchina and, in 1945, the state capital of South Vietnam. In 1975, Southern Vietnam was reunited with its northern counterpart and Saigon became known as Ho Chi Minh City. Most people still refer to it by its former name, no matter what their political stance.
Politics & Economy
HCMC is run by the city-level People's Committee and its executive council. A chairman manages the 13 members of the HCMC People's Committee. The People's Council, consisting of nearly 100 deputies, is the city government's legislative branch. The Communist Party controls both the People's Committee and Council.
Dustin Nguyen (actor), Thuy Trang (actress), Marguerite Duras (writer), Eugene H. Trinh (astronaut and first Vietnamese in outer space)
Western New Year's Eve in Saigon is pretty epic. All of Nguyen Hue is overrun by a sea of revelers. Ideally, watch the sea of heads ring in the new year from the safety of a balcony above.
War Remnants Museum; Reunification Palace; Ho Chi Minh City Museum (the building itself, which was a luxurious mansion that was the former French Governor’s Residence and the final residence of assassinated South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, is more interesting than the museum collection itself).
Holidays & Festivals
Tết, or lunar new year, is the single most important holiday in Vietnam. This takes place according to the lunar calendar, falling in late January or early February.
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