Nurturing Artistic Frontiers: The Role of Independent Art Spaces in Shaping Vietnam's Creative Landscape


From an informal beginnings to be an artistic catalyst in Vietnam's thriving art scene,  Á Space, an independent art space in Hanoi, a pioneer in nurturing unconventional artists and fostering an inclusive art community. How this art space thrives on limited resources, empowers overlooked talents, and transforms the art landscape. Á Space's unique role in promoting art beyond conventional boundaries is a testament to its enduring impact.

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An exhibition at Á Space, Hanoi.

In the 1990s, artist Vũ Dân Tân began opening his house to welcome artist friends, providing a space for them to hang out and display their works. At that time, this place wasn't formally recognized as an art space, but rather served as a casual and communal hub for camaraderie and artistic exchanges.

Carrying forward this genuine tradition while adapting to survive the ever-changing artistic landscape, independent art spaces, particularly those initiated or run by artists, continue to play a vital role in shaping and facilitating the arts in Vietnam. This is particularly significant in a country that still lacks a robust art infrastructure, although it has recently seen the emergence of better-equipped newcomers.

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Inspired by the legacy of those who paved the way for my current work, I felt a compelling urge to engage with artistic production more intimately. Consequently, I made the decision to return to Hanoi after spending three years working for a highly professional art center in Saigon. I assumed the role of Artistic Director at Á Space, a small independent art space located within artist Tuấn Mami's private house in 2018.

Our primary goal is to provide a platform for nurturing and articulating experimental art practices. Operating on a tight budget, situated a considerable distance from the city center, and run by a small core team, Á Space shares similarities with other independent art spaces and collectives across Vietnam.

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A private critique session joined by different generations of artists in the community for Nguyễn Đức Huy's debut solo show at Á Space (2023).

Operating an art space like Á space where I have the privilege of full autonomy to direct and shape its programming, can be seen as an extension of my curatorial practice. Since leaving the institutional system, I have become a strong advocate for practitioners, artists, and curators whose critical and unconventional approaches to art challenge and educate me.

This includes emerging talents yet to receive recognition, artists at a critical career transition whose experimental approaches might be considered too risky, or those whose inspiration is deeply rooted in local visual and textual references that are difficult to translate into conventional forms.

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Á Space transformed into a temporary Ô Cách Ciné (2023) in a project realized by Lê Xuân Tiến, Nguyễn Trần Nam, Châu Hoàng, Như Văn.

Unfortunately, the existing systems of value and recognition often overlook these artists. In my role at Á Space, I've endeavored to gather resources to create a stage tailored to their needs, which involves careful observation of their practice, thoughtful assessment of required support, and ongoing recalibration to ensure optimal resource utilization. Our programs and exhibitions are centered around this time-consuming, bespoke process, preserving the uniqueness of each practitioner and exploring alternative horizons.

In addition to supporting individual practitioners, it's crucial for us to build a healthy, intergenerational community where care and attention to each other's practice are fostered through professional and personal exchanges. We facilitate the transfer of expertise from senior members of the community to emerging practitioners and vice versa, promoting collaboration and growth.

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Vũ Đức Toàn's A rendezvous at Minh Dĩ Ký (2023) that saw Á Space transform into a 20th-century coffee shop.

The Hanoi art scene often appears as a close-knit community, which may seem exclusive to outsiders. By introducing artists from the Southern and Central regions of Vietnam to Hanoi and engaging with those outside Á Space's immediate circle, we aim to foster a deeper understanding of each other's practices and address potential misunderstandings in theoretical and practical aspects.

Á Space's adaptable architecture and identity allow us to experiment with various programming structures, giving artists significant creative freedom, even temporarily transforming the exhibition space and brand guidelines. We take pride in our DIY aesthetics, showcasing the ability to achieve much with limited resources.

Facilitation, mediation, and investigation are at the core of everything we do, often occurring behind the scenes and remaining invisible, especially in today's media-driven era where "everyone is world-famous for 15 minutes," and contemporary art enjoys blockbuster shows worldwide. If we're fortunate, our work can exceed our expectations, but if not, we'll continue quietly pursuing what we believe in.
Van Do is a curator and writer currently based in Hanoi. Since 2022, Vân has been running Á Space, an artist-driven independent space for experimental art practices in Hanoi, Vietnam, as its Artistic Director, where she’s then invested in seeking critical engagements with the artistic community and solidifying her vision for formal and conceptual experimentations on the moving image and performance-based practices.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

This article is a part of web-dossier "Vietnam in Motion", a collaboration between Phuong Phan and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Southeast Asia Regional Office.