When mere words won’t do: Hanoi girl’s drawings chronicle pandemic

By Thanh Hang   June 17, 2020 | 07:59 pm PT
When mere words won’t do: Hanoi girl’s drawings chronicle pandemic
Nguyen Doi Chung Anh in the process of drawing one of her paintings in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang.
Nguyen Doi Chung Anh is just 10 but this prodigy has been recording how the coronavirus pandemic unfolded globally through drawings.

In her room at home on Hanoi’s De La Thanh Street, Anh is putting the final touches to the drawing of a woman in a face mask, surrounded by caricatures of buildings, airplanes, flasks, and viruses. On the walls are numerous other framed works with similar themes. She glances around the room once in a while.

She says: "I watched a lot of news about Covid-19, and so I wanted to put this pandemic in my drawings. When I finished one, I felt very satisfied."

She has done a total of 11 drawings using crayons that chronicle how the pandemic first unfolded and how it shook the world to its core.

Nguyen Doi Chung Anh stands next to her paintings in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang.

Nguyen Doi Chung Anh stands next to her drawings in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang.

Anh first drew when she was three. Both her parents work in art, and often help their daughter look for photos and pictures as references for her paintings. She draws from memory and imagination, and rarely copies others' works, Doi Xuan Hieu, Anh’s mother says.

"If she forgets about or does not understand a painting, she will ask me to look for photos."

She and her husband want Anh to have a normal childhood and develop her gift naturally, and so have not put too much emphasis on technical skills or achievements.

When Anh was off from school since February because of the Covid-19 outbreak, she often watched the news on TV with her parents during meals and before bed. The pandemic naturally took center stage.

Anh says: "When my mother explained to me about the impacts of Covid-19, I was worried seeing how dangerous the virus was. So I decided to draw."

All her works begin with rough pencil drafts. That is the most difficult step because she has to decide the composition of the work down to the smallest detail. Her first drawing was in February, a 40 x 60 cm work depicting people from some of the first countries afflicted by the virus: China, Japan and Vietnam.

She then drew Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who was among the first to warn the world about the deadly threat posed by the virus and reprimanded for it. He succumbed to the virus in early February, triggering an outpour of grief and outrage around the world.

"When the news mentioned the death of Dr Li, I felt sorry for so many doctors who had to face dangers in the fight against the disease."

It was the hardest to draw since she had trouble deciding the image.

As the world started to learn more about the virus and news outlets started to cover the pandemic with greater frequency, Anh observed it all and put it on paper.

The Diamond Princess, the cruise ship stuck in a Japanese port from February till May with more than 700 infected passengers and crew, flight VN54 which brought back Hanoi’s first Covid-19 patient in March, countries that saw hundreds of thousands of their citizens lose their lives to the virus... Anh recorded all this.

Check out her paintings here:

Anh spent most of her time she was not attending classes online drawing. She would draw for eight hours a day, and sometimes not stop until her parents told her to go to bed.

Hieu says: "The fact that our 10-year-old girl could draw 11 works of such large scale makes us proud. I can see her determination and sense of responsibility. That is already a huge success."

In her final painting, Anh drew herself. Titled "Me being safe amid the pandemic," it is her largest, measuring 60 x 85 cm.

It took her over a month and caused her a headache.

"Since there were so many small details, I had to put a lot of effort into it. At first I could not complete it and got bored, but my parents encouraged me to finish what I started."

It was also meant to thank all the medical personnel and officials who had helped her and other people remain safe amid the raging pandemic.

Anh’s works have received international media coverage and many have asked to buy them. But her family has steadfastly refused.

"If anyone asks, I'd tell them I've bought all the paintings," Hieu jokes.

She wants to keep the drawings so that Anh could see and appreciate them when she grows up. Anh hopes to compile the works into a book and gift it to doctors at Hanoi’s Bach Mai Hospital, which was a major outbreak site.

The girl has already decided what the subject of her next work will be: the pandemic’s socio-economic impacts on countries.

"In the future I want to become an artist just like my father, who gets to go to so many places and does paintings about life."

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