As well as documenting life in the Tây Bắc, Minh created a host of propaganda images used by the Painting Division of the Cultural Department based in Nghĩa Lộ. After making preliminary sketches on the road, Minh returned to the departmental base in Nghĩa Lộ, where he either replicated his sketches on wooden boards using sticky paste and colours as billboards to be displayed on the streets or refined them for mass printing purposes. Often, he reused the wooden boards, washing off one painting to make way for another. Sadly, there is very little record of these early billboard paintings. As a government assignment, this work was directed toward propaganda.
Minh’s brief was clear in the sketches he created at this time. Showing a female figure of strength and determination in front of an industrial background (fig. 1), the sketch was inscribed with “The North competed for building; The South competed for its mission; Unifying the country must succeed.” The emphasis on re-industrialising Vietnam was a large part of Hồ Chí Minh’s plan for unifying North and South Vietnam. As can be seen in other works by Nguyễn Thanh Minh, however, this depended on the support of the rural population to provide food for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s (DRV) engineers and workers. The link between industrialisation and weapons is immediately obvious by the rifle carried by the female guerrilla.
Other sketches by Minh emphasise the connection between rural and industrialising North Vietnam. Minh highlighted the basic use of tractors as an essential part of North Vietnam’s policy of feeding the DRV (fig. 2). Inscribed, “Only way to escape poverty and backwardness is industrialization, 12-62,” this sketch was made in December 1962, and would have been one of the first Minh created with the Painting Division of the Cultural Department in Nghĩa Lộ.
In an even earlier example of Minh’s work, however, we realise that – as well as encouraging the rural population to increase their efforts of food production for the benefit of the DRV – support for Hồ Chí Minh also extended to showing support for Communist governments around the world (fig. 3).
In March 1962, the seven-year-long Algerian War had come to an end, in which the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic government-in-exile of the National Liberation Front (FLN) finally overcame French rule. In many ways, the war in Algeria mirrored the struggle of Vietnamese independence against the French before 1954, not least of all because of the support shown for Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic by the Communist bloc. Hồ Chí Minh’s DRV sympathised with FLN’s new-found independence and urged his countrymen to do the same. There is little evidence as to whether supplies were actually sent to Algeria by the DRV government.