September 1975: Ngô Viễn Chí Searches for his Old Unit at the Vì Dân Hospital in Saigon

Five months after the liberation of Vietnam, Ngô Viễn Chí made his way to Saigon in search of his old unit (Unit B10) with another artist and colleague, Quý Viện. On the bicycle journey to their final destination in Tây Ninh Province, Chí and Viện stopped at various places to paint along the way. As both Chí and Viện were part of the same unit, they decided to stop at the Vì Dân Hospital (Bệnh Viện Vì Dân or K71, often known in English at the time as Vì Dân Hospital, rather than by its direct translation of People’s Hospital).

Chí’s painting (fig. 1) details the kitchen system of the hospital, which served wounded soldiers and patients during and after the war. Originally managed by Madame Nguyễn Thị Mai Anh, the wife of the President of South Vietnam Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, after its opening in September 1971, the hospital’s administration was taken over by the Defence Ministry after liberation. In the painting, Chí documented the large, round tanks that were used to contain and then release steam generated from coal-burning ovens for cooking. Both artists stayed at the hospital to work for five days.

Figure 1: Ngô Viễn Chí, September 1975, Bệnh Viện Vì Dân, Saigon. “Hệ thống bếp của Bệnh Viện Vì Dân phục vụ thương bệnh binh; VC (Kitchen system at the Vì Dân (People’s) Hospital serving wounded soldiers; VC (Artist’s initials)).” Watercolour on machine made-paper; artist’s inscription written in ink.

Vì Dân Hospital was the largest and most modern hospital in Vietnam since its opening. It is now known as Reunification Hospital (Bệnh viện Thống Nhất) and remains one of Vietnam’s leading hospitals. The hospital is located at 1 Lý Thường Kiệt Street, Ward 7, Tân Bìn District in Ho Chi Minh City, between Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport and the city centre.

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