Inspired by the masters of Asia and with a goal to give travellers truly unique memories, the Buffalo Tours team is excited to introduce a brand new line of exclusive travel experiences. Master Class connects in country experts with travellers eager to leave Asia with awareness, familiarity and skills.
Resident writer Jade discovers what makes Master Class so special on the Hanoi History through Art tour.
From the moment we step onto the street where our meeting point is located, we know this tour is going to be different. It’s a small street, hidden away in one of the busiest areas of Hanoi and one we’ve never noticed before. It’s full of old French houses and the coffee shop where we’re meeting is painted a bright canary yellow with decorative wrought iron window panes.
We spot Fabiola, our guide, and order coffee with few expectations. When the introductions are complete, she pulls out her iPad and begins the journey that will take us through 200 years of Vietnamese history and a handful of its most influential artists. We are engrossed immediately and we’ve barely finished our cà phê bạc xỉu.
Sophie’s Art Tours began in Ho Chi Minh in 2011, as a research project sparked by personal curiosity. Five years later and a branch up north to Hanoi, and the venture has kept its feelings of intrigue and discovery. In its momentum it has gained even more passion.
As we enter the Fine Art Museum, we are given our first disclaimer. Everything that we will hear has been meticulously researched, yet even then half of it can’t be verified. She assures us she’ll let us know the difference between fact and speculation and, at once, we are comforted, intrigued and impressed with the level of care devoted to the content of this tour.
And what fascinating content it is. The history of art in Vietnam has been influenced heavily by the French Occupation and later the three major wars that wracked the country between 1885 and 1976. During this time artistic styles, content and underlying motivations changed dramatically. These influences are a major focus of the tour and truly put Vietnam’s turbulent history in the context of its people.
At its most extreme, artists only just finding their brushstrokes were enlisted as combat artists. They documented the communist movement alongside soldiers on the front line. They slept in caves, experienced battles firsthand and suffered the hardships of a war-zone. The results were often quick sketches, somber in their lack of colour and detail, but depicting intense activity all the same.
At this time, the art reaching the people was in the classic propaganda style that is still used in government announcements today. It was highly influential for the masses, reaching every remote corner of Vietnam.
It is from this background of art for purpose that contemporary art tentatively began to spring once the country had been unified. For the next part of the tour Fabiola takes us through Hanoi’s best galleries and introduces us to those at the forefront of new creative movements in Hanoi. The contemporary art scene is not a large one though. Even in modern day Vietnam, the lack of true freedom of expression makes Hanoi a complex place to be creative.
The contextual aspects of this tour were not more apparent than during our visit to the artist’s home. Wandering through Ha Manh Thang’s home he frequently points out paintings and sculptures created by the very artists we have been learning about throughout the day. We cannot believe our luck at being given this glimpse into the heart of the contemporary art world. This is the well-deserved highlight of the day and we feel privileged at being invited to observe such a personal space. It doesn’t get more exclusive than that.
This tour is more than just a journey into the Hanoi art scene. It gives travellers an understanding of modern day Vietnam in relation to its history. It is a chance to understand the Vietnamese people in relation to the creative vein that runs through the city. Often, this is not easily accessible to travellers but brings a whole new perspective to a destination. I now look at Vietnam through new eyes and isn’t that the main reason we travel?
Are you fascinated by the Hanoi art scene or want a city tour with a difference? Whether you’re an art lover or novice, this exclusive experience gives you a whole new perspective of dynamic Hanoi.