Early-Mid 1967: Artists Capture Resistance Life in South Vietnam

Together with artists on assignment in the North, artists based in South Vietnam also captured the life of resistance forces. As the political organisation leading resistance forces South Vietnam, the National Liberation Front (NLF) directed the People’s Liberation Armed Forces of Vietnam (PLAF) and the Việt Cộng.

Artist Trần Hữu Chất was based in the Trường Sơn mountains in February 1967. The Trường Sơn mountains were an integral supply route for NLF forces utilising support from China and the Soviet Union through Laos and Cambodia along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

In the Trường Sơn mountains, Chất documented the life of the PLAF. Chất depicted a soldier in full military gear leaning on his rifle, wearing military overalls and boots, a rare luxury for soldiers of the NLF (fig. 1). Chất also noted the soldier’s name and position: Hồng Chinh Hien, a Laison Officer from Post 2 in the Trường Sơn mountains. The soldier’s gear suggests Hien was part of the regular PLAF army, being better equipped than other artist impressions of simply clad militia and guerrillas in other parts of the country.

Figure 1: Trần Hữu Chất, February 1967, Trường Sơn mountains, “Giao liên Trường Sơn; binh trạm 2; Trường Sơn II/1967; Hồng Chinh Hiền (Liaison Trường Sơn; soldier post 2; Trường Sơn II/1967; Hồng Chinh Hiền (artist’s pseudonym)).” Watercolour on machine-made paper.

Further towards South Vietnam’s most southerly tip, Thái Hà continued to document his time in the Mekong Delta after setting up his first Liberty Art Class in 1965. The simple yet revealing sketch (fig. 2) shows the Delta’s flora and environment. Hà also included a traditional bamboo and leaf hut, almost imperceptible from the surrounding foliage.

Figure 2: Thái Hà, 1967, Mekong Delta. Ink and watercolour on machine-made paper.

While in Trà Vinh Province of the Mekong Delta, Hà managed to paint a notable NLF guerilla soldier (fig. 3). From a handwritten note accompanying the artwork, we learn that the soldier was the legendary fighter Nguyễn Thị Út (Út Tịch her nom de guerre), a guerrilla based in Trà Vinh, a year before her death.

Út Tịch served with the Việt Minh from the age of 13 and then the NLF. In 1965, she attended the Congress of Heroic Soldiers of the PLAF and was elected as a hero for participating in 23 battles, being a brave scout and combatant. After 1965, she was sent to Military Zone 9 to fight.

Figure 3: Thái Hà, 1967, Trà Vinh Province, Mekong Delta, “11. Du Kích Trà Vinh, Út Tịch (Út Tịch, Guerrilla In Trà Vinh (from note 11 accompanying the art work, handwritten by the artist)).” Ink and watercolour on machine-made paper.

During a US B-52 strike on 27 November 1968 in Tân Châu District, Châu Đốc Province (now An Giang Province), Út Tịch and her third daughter were killed. The writer Nguyễn Thi wrote the book Mother with a Gun (Người Mẹ Cầm Súng) about Út Tịch, which was made into the film When Mother is Not Home (Khi Mẹ Vắng Nhà) by director Trần Khánh Dư. A street in Tân Bình District, Ho Chi Minh City, is named after her and a memorial to her as a heroic martyr was constructed in Ngọc Hồ village, Tam Ngãi Commune, Cầu Kè District, Trà Vinh Province, in 2014.

Hà also continued to document his third Liberty Art Class in Cà Mau Province. In his sketch (fig. 4), Hà drew a student sitting against the stilt of a bamboo hut and sketching the scene before her. It is also important to note the inscription, in which Hà referred to the sketch as the “Fine Arts School Cà Mau Province.”

Figure 4: Thái Hà, 1967, Cà Mau Province, “Trường hội hoạ Cà Mau (Ca Mau Painting School).” Ink on machine-made paper.

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