Murals bathe Saigon alleys with a splash of color

By Quynh Tran, Thanh Nguyen   August 13, 2017 | 04:00 am PT
Artists and residents are painting their city a brighter face.

Saigon's soul is hidden deep down its alleyways. Venturing off the tree-lined avenues and sneaking behind the skyscrapers, you can find city life humming in the mazes of hẻm, the local word for alleys.

They are home to local food gems, bustling daily activity and charming cafés, but more recently, an array of unique murals hand-drawn by both artists and residents has sprung up.

Instead of leaving the alley walls for the worn-out advertisements and posters that have become an eyesore, many locals have decided to revamp their neighborhoods with bright, eye-catching colors.

Some use their works to convey messages about protecting animals and the environment, while others simply want to paint a picture of what the city is missing: nature and countryside landscapes.


Nguyen Van Minh, a retired teacher on Nguyen Khoai Street (District 4), has put his alleyways on the map with his large-scale murals on neighbors’ walls.


Inspired by the memories of his hometown, Da Lat, many pieces stretch over several meters, featuring mostly nature landscapes.


The 75-year-old man said this is how he realizes his unfulfilling dream of becoming an artist when he was young. “I majored in arts in university,” Minh recalled, “But I had to quit the path because of the Vietnam War, and worked as a physical teacher instead.”


Minh paints these murals out of his own pocket. In the past three years, Minh has devoted his spare time covering his neighborhood with murals. “After my first works, people seem to like them and let me paint more on their walls,” he said.


The good seed spreads: Others started to color another neighborhood of Alley 62, Nguyen Khoai Street.


This kind of alley artworks have appeared in other central district. In the photo, Alley No. 19 on Tran Dinh Xu Street (District 1) has become a canvas for a groups of young artists.


Inspired by children drawing, this mural popped up in a narrow alley on Cach Mang Thang Tam Street (District 3).


This street café stall downtown finds a new way to stand out.


Early this year, lively rhino graffiti has been popping up in Saigon's backstreets, bringing the illegal rhino horn trade to public attention. It is part of the "Stop using Rhino horn” campaign jointly organized by Vietnamese NGO CHANGE and Saigon authorities.


In another awareness-raising campaign of climate change in August - City 2030 - local artists have painted in the city’s corners with messages of advocating clean energy and environment-friendly lifestyle. This photo was taken in Alley No. 724, Dien Bien Phu Street.


Luu Ba Dang, a participant said he used non-toxic paints for his work.


An artwork is on the way in District 10. “The wall used to be marred with posters and flyers,” said Tung, a senior resident in the alley. “I love how it has been transformed in such a meaningful way.”


An impressive work in District 1.


“We hope our artists’ passion for street arts can help sending vital messages of climate change and renewable energy to the wider public,” said a representative of CHANGE, the City 2030 campaign organizer.

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