The craft of Dong Ho folk paintings in Song Ho commune, Bac Ninh province is now more than 400 years old. Together with Hang Trong and Kim Hoang folk paintings, Dong Ho paintings lend color to Vietnamese folk painting. The craft has been handed down through generations. Nguyen Dang Che, who has great a passion for the craft, is one of the few artisans who really excel in it. Che says:“Dong Ho folk paintings feature the daily activities and religious practices of farmers. For example, the painting “Catching coconuts” and “Jealousy” tell stories about the good and the bad in life. The paintings reflect the artisans’ feelings. Dong Ho paintings carry no author’s name but they are all folk paintings and their stories are diverse”.
Dong Ho folk paintings depict people’s aspirations, daily activities, folk games, work, husbandry, festivals. Painter Nguyen Dang Dung says each painting implies a story: “Foreign visitors to a Dong Ho painting gallery are interested in the story of the “Rat’s wedding” which describes the feudal society of the past. There was no literal Rat wedding. People in the past understood this to be a description of feudal society. Rats represent the poor while Cats represent the mandarins. In the past, a Rat had to bribe the Cats if it wanted to get married. Dong Ho folk paintings also feature other animals. Chickens symbolize a family’s happiness at having many children”.
The meaning of each Dong Ho painting is understood slightly differently by different viewer. People of different ages and with different life experience may have different ideas about a painting. For example, the painting “Pigs” which depicts a mother pig with circles on her body and a group of piglets, is said by some symbolize wealth and prosperity while farmers say this painting is about the right way to select and care for pigs. Luu Duy Dan, Vice President of Vietnamese Craft Village Association, says: “Dong Ho paintings are artifacts of Vietnamese culture games. For example, paintings showing a graduate returning home to his family, a Rat’s wedding, and catching coconuts depict cultural traditions concerned with education and life lessons”.
Dong Ho folk paintings reveal the talents and ideology of Vietnamese people in the past. Making a painting requires 5 iterations of carving and inking wood blocks. Nguyen Thi Hoa, a fan of Dong Ho folk painting, says: “I love Dong Ho folk paintings. They are very popular with most Vietnamese people. For me, the paintings, their colors and materials are unique and beautiful. They are also a feature of Vietnamese folk culture. Dong Ho paintings are not only a national heritage but also an art”.
Dong Ho paintings bear significant historical, cultural and artistic values reflecting the beliefs and daily activities of people in the Red River Delta. This art genre has been recognized as a national intangible heritage. This recognition is expected to help preserve and develop the art while increasing the public’s awareness of traditional cultural values.