This month marks the first annual Sapa Art Festival in the mountains of northwest Vietnam. Celebrating the work of artists and children alike, the festival seeks to promote creativity in schools and bring together the region’s most talented painters and photographers. Running from September 21 until October 18, the festival includes an exhibition at the Sapa Tourist Centre and self-guided tours through local artist studios. For those unable to make it before October 18, however, studios will remain open to welcome all those interested in learning about the life and style of Sapa artists.
Opening on a rainy mountain morning, artists, media and visitors were greeted by more than 50 paintings and photographs by ten of the region’s most talented artists. The highlight of the exhibition is a collection of student paintings depicting objects from everyday life in the region. This series of small canvases is the product of a rural art class program hosted by professional artist Bridget Marr in collaboration with the TET Lifestyle Collection, a hospitality company and social enterprise. Using the templates that the students had drawn, Marr painted scenes that reflected a child’s perspective of life in the Sapa area. A perky red roster, a young boy riding his buffalo, and a pot-bellied pig trotting through a farm are just a few of the scenes on display. “The kids shone a spotlight on the ordinary and then I started seeing wonderful things everywhere,” she says.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Marr spent the last two years in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An before moving to Sapa as the artist-in-residence under the Art for Community program. “Art for Community is a not for profit initiative from the TET Lifestyle Collection through which artists are invited to give time or work to raise funds to support our community,” explains program founder, Pete Wilkes. Marr and Wilkes both feel “that the arts are an integral part of a healthy culture, and that community-based arts provide significant value both to communities and artists.”
After working with the students and reaching out to local artists through the program, the idea for the festival was born. “I wanted to create something lasting by starting an ongoing event,” says Marr, who plans to return next year to oversee the 2015 festival. “For me it was always about helping the Art for Community program achieve their goals rather than producing my own work.” Although she still did find time to produce a series of soft watercolor paintings depicting the rolling hills and villages of the area.
“Once I moved here I started to realize that the town is full of amazing artists,” says Marr. Despite language barriers, the artists banded together to promote their art and support Marr in her vision for the festival. “Drawn by the cooler weather and stunning landscape, Sapa has been a popular town for artists since the French made this their summer escape,” she explains, “and I hope the festival will continue to promote Sapa as a retreat for artists from around Vietnam and the world.”
With at least ten active artists in this small town, it is clear that Sapa offers inspiration and lifestyle not found elsewhere. “I love living and working in Sapa,” says Pham Phan Hoang Linh, one of the youngest and most talented artists at the exhibition. Pham relocated to Sapa with her boyfriend after they both graduated from the Hue School of Art in the country’s central region. “Sapa is a wonderful place to produce art and I hope to stay here forever.”