First Generation Artist: École des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine French Influenced
Xu Man was born Siêu Dơn into the Bà Nà ethnic minority in D’rai village, Bắc commune, An Khê District, Gia Lai Province in 1925.1 Man grew up not only in poverty but, in his own words, the equivalent to a slave under the head of the village (Tri phủ).2 However, at a young age, Man displayed a passion for drawing, sketching and painting. He used pens, coloured stones and brick dust to capture his natural surroundings.
During the First Indochina War resisting French colonial rule, Man joined and fought for the Việt Minh’s resistance campaign in the Central Highlands.3 In 1954, as a soldier in the 120th Regiment, Man moved to North Vietnam after the Geneva Accords divided the country. In 1955, Man went to study at the Central School of Ethnic Culture while being admitted into the Communist Party in the same year.
“I drew a portrait for two hours, and was given a piece of rice (about 5kg). High-income salary!”
Man studied at the Vietnam Fine Arts College from 1956 to 1963, completing both his pre-college and university art education there. In what would come to define a large part of Man’s future subject matter, he met President Hồ Chí Minh at an art exhibition in Hanoi in February 1962 – a moment that encouraged him to complete his studies in order to serve the Democratic Republic of Vietnam during the Second Indochina War. Before he completed his studies, however, in 1963, Man was ordered to travel south for the resistance and spent 11 years at the front in the Central Highlands until 1974. After his return to Hanoi due to health reasons, Man completed his graduation exam at the Vietnam Fine Arts College.
“The strength of Xu Man’s art is to depict the crowd and colors. As for portraits, I once said it did not look like Uncle Ho. He answered: it is Xu Man’s Uncle Ho. He saw and felt Uncle Ho; he painted like that and everyone realized that it was Uncle Ho… Paintings he painted in the last years of his life were still full of love for Uncle Ho.”
Poet Văn Công Hùng5
After reunification in 1975, Man was made the vice-director of the Information and Culture Department of Gia Lai Province. In 1983, he retired to live in Plei Bông village, Ayun commune, Mang Yang District in Gia Lai Province. There, he continued to paint, sometimes with his peer and good friend Huỳnh Văn Thuận, living a frugal but productive life.
In August 2000, the Fine Art Associations of Vietnam and of Ho Chi Minh City hosted an honorary exhibition for Man at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts entitled A Child from Mountain and Forest of The Central Highland (Người Con Từ Núi Rừng Tây Nguyên). The exhibition contained over 87 of Man’s works in oil, lacquer and watercolour. After the exhibition, the Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts chose to add some of Man’s works to their own private collection.
“Vietnam Fine Arts industry rarely has many painters on display at the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum like Xu Man. This proves that he has many contributions to Tây Nguyên Fine Arts in particular and Vietnam in general…”
Ms Trần Thị Hương, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum6
Xu Man passed away in 2007.
In 2012, Man was posthumously awarded the State Prize for Art and Literature in Hanoi, the only artist from the Central Highlands to receive the award to date.
XU MAN GALLERY
Trung Trung Đỉnh, The Life Of Artist Xu Man, 1988, Native Culture, Hanoi
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts
1-12 August 2000 – A Child from Mountain and Forest of The Central Highland (Người Con Từ Núi Rừng Tây Nguyên) hosted by the Fine Art Associations of Vietnam and of Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts
29 November-2 December 2018 – Painter Xu Man – What is left?, Central Highlands Gong Festival Exhibition, Gia Lai Province
1960 – Member of the VietnamFine Arts Association
1980-1989 – Executive member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, Course I
Vice-director of the Information and Culture Department in Gia Lai Province
1976 – First prize in the National Fine Arts Exhibition
2012 – State Prize for Art and Literature
REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:
- Hà An, “Xu Man – Painter of the Central Highlands,” 12 December 2018 Biên Phòng. Visited on 3 July 2019.
- Nguyễn Quang Tuệ, “More insights about the life of artist Xu Man,” 31 January 2010, Báo Gia Lai. Visited on 3 July 2019.
- Trần Khánh Chương, “Artists and Sculptors of the Trường Sơn and of The Central Highlands.”
- Trung Trung Đỉnh, “Painter Xu Man: The sacred forest,” 6 February 2019, Tiên Phong. Visited on 3 July 2019.
- Minh Tân, “Painter Xu Man – the leading bird of Tay Nguyen art,” 15 October 2018, Công an Thành Phố Đà Nẵng. Visited on 3 July 2019.
- Phan Hòa, “Exhibition ‘Painter Xu Man – what’s left,’” 29 November 2018, Nhân Dân. Visited on 3 July 2019.