Can art change the world? Inside Out Vietnam is hoping so
Words Thu Ha Dao ● Edited by Rose Arnold ● Images courtesy of Inside Out Vietnam
The portraits currently plastered up on Yên Phụ are different from the ones normally seen in public places – the perfect smiling people used to convince you to buy a particular brand of toothpaste or watch the latest TV series. Instead the images up on the walls on Yên Phụ are of street children, their nameless faces staring out at us, larger than life. They have been put there by Inside Out Vietnam in an attempt to get us to actually think about the plight of the children we see around us in the city.
Inside Out is a global social art movement. It was started by internationally reputable photographer and street artist, JR, known for his brave projects in conflicting areas like Middle East and Africa. The format is simple. Using the city as a canvas, JR pasted large black and white portraits of people on unexpected public places. Bringing the message to the street is an integral part of the concept, to reach audiences that would not visit an art gallery or museum. Said JR; “I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world…inside out.” Across the world people have been inspired to use his idea to highlight a wide variety of social causes, from a campaign to save the Artic in the North Pole to one celebrating the different ethnicities in Seoul, South Korea.
The Vietnamese project, named Lullaby of the Streets – in reference to the children’ nights on the park benches or the pavements, incessant traffic horns lulling them to sleep – attempts to bring to light street kids’ dark slices of life.
“It’s a global participatory campaign, and meanwhile Vietnam is ripe with social issues as well as young people capable of doing something about it. So why not bring it here?” Nhật Minh, leader of Inside Out Vietnam, spoke of his inspiration for the project after watching JR’s TEDx talk.
The photo taking process took months. Photographer Hoàng Long , who is also a member of Blue Dragon Children Foundation – an Australian charity rescuing kids in crisis in Vietnam – has spent time talking, playing and capturing moments with these kids.
To stay true to the spirit of street arts, Inside Out Vietnam has chosen not to ask for publishing permission. That is indeed a risky choice, considering the complex relationship between art and authority in the local context. “But after all, we want to transfer the big message of the pressure the economy had on poor families in rural areas, the culprit of these wandering street kids. That’s a good intention, even though perhaps the means of expression is a bit unconventional.” So the success of the campaign will rely on the venues to paste the photos and a bit of luck.
The photos and the faces of the children have become part of the urban landscape, but one enlarged and amplified, harder to ignore. While its impact remains unmeasured, one thing is certain – the Inside Out Vietnam project will indeed reach hoards of people who never go to museums. And for that they should be proud.