On July 22, the Sozo cafe on Bui Vien will host an art exhibition featuring, amongst others, the work of new Saigon artist, Le Huynh Minh Hieu.
Aimed at raising money for the Green Bamboo Shelter for At Risk Boys, the exhibition will mark a further step in a remarkable journey for Hieu.
Hieu came to Saigon, aged 12, from Ben Tre Province in the Mekong Delta five years ago. After spending some time living on the streets and earning a living finding work repairing and painting motorbikes, Hieu was taken to the Green Bamboo Shelter on Calmette Street by a concerned xe om driver. It was here, during one of the shelter’s many educational projects, that Hieu discovered his love of – and talent for – painting. While all the boys enjoyed learning to paint, it was Hieu who showed the most commitment; sometimes going as far as staying up all night to finish work on a painting.
Hieu’s enthusiasm and skill is there to see in all of his canvasses. In his painting, Hieu seems to find a confidence that most of his life has worked to take away from him. He paints in bold and bright oils. His pictures are bright, colourful and full of life.
However, even art comes at a cost and, as part of its commitment to children like Hieu, the Green Bamboo Shelter has found itself running numerous fundraising events to help keep Hieu in canvass and oil. It’s a significant investment of both time and resources for a shelter for whom funds are clearly in short supply. Hidden down a narrow alley at the bottom of Calmette Street, the Green Bamboo Shelter was founded by Do Thi Bach Phat in 1992 and has been offering an open door to the neediest and most vulnerable of Saigon’s street children ever since. Every day Saigon sees fresh arrivals of children from all over the rural South, each hoping to find work and money on Saigon’s streets. Of these, only a lucky few will find themselves under Miss Phat’s watchful eye.
The reasons children come to Saigon are myriad. It was his parent’s divorce that brought Hieu here, bereavement and sometimes imprisonment bring others. What they all share is poverty. Once in Saigon, these children find themselves easy prey for those looking to get the most from those that have the least. Theft, drugs and prostitution are often the fates awaiting Saigon’s latest young arrivals and, once in, it’s a cycle few of these children will ever break free from.
However, all of this seems a far cry from the quiet top floor room at the Green Bamboo Shelter where Hieu has made his studio. Like his heroes, Picasso and Duong Bich Lien, Hieu has real hopes of living out his dream of being an artist. It’s a life unimaginable from the perspective of the one he left behind. “I have a hard life” he says, “painting helps me forget that and relax. When I’m painting, I can make my dreams real.”
The Art For A Better Home exhibition and sale will be at Sozo Cafe on Sunday 22nd July from 12pm – 10pm. 100% of the money raised will go towards Hieu and the boys of the Green Bamboo Shelter.