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Serenity and Destruction in Childrens’ Vietnam Memorial Paintings

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2001-01-19

It was the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War last year but there was almost nothing in the way of commemoration of the event in Okinawa, a place that was heavily involved in the war. It was from here that B-52s took off for their bombing raids over North Vietnam from 1965 onwards.

When the conflict, (known as the American War in the country where it took place) ended in 1975, a War Remnants Museum was established in Ho Chi Minh City. The museum has photos, documents, weapons and hardware. One section has an Okinawan connection, a display of photographs by Okinawan cameraman Ishikawa Fumihiro.

In preparation for the anniversary, the museum organized visits to its premises by nearly 11,000 local children, who by virtue of their ages, four to 15, had had no experience of war. They were then asked to paint pictures of whatever had left the greatest impression in their minds after the museum visit. The best of their paintings were exhibited from January to April in Vietnam, as one of the special events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the end of the war.

The Deputy Director of the museum visited Okinawa in 1998 because of the connection with photographer Fumihiro. Some officials from Naha City Hall visited the War Remnants Museum while the paintings were being exhibited and learnt of plans for the show to be taken all over the world. The Deputy Director of the museum asked them if they would like Okinawa to be the first place in the world after Vietnam to see the paintings. The officials accepted the offer and last spring started preparing for the exhibition. They were helped by many people in and outside Okinawa.

This month selections of the paintings can be seen in four different locations in Okinawa. The rationale of the show is based on hopes for peace in the new century. Bombs left Okinawa for Vietnam in the last century, says a poster at the exhibition and in this one childrens’ paintings come back.

Many of the paintings in the exhibition feature globes and doves and are in bold primary colors. World peace rather than country specific concern is a constant theme. Although some blend the two ideas. Peaceful Bird Flying by Guen Ming Ha Ban, aged six, shows a huge dove, towing two children through the sky towards an emblematic Vietnamese flag in the sky.

Some of the paintings have nothing to do with war and show idyllic scenes with titles like The Best Time of My Childhood. Violence though, features in many others. Ten year old Fam Tsui Duc’s Disaster Made by War shows a man tending a wounded comrade. There are two bloodied soldiers’ bodies in the background. House hut and forest burn and a communist hammer and sickle flag flies beside a pall of black smoke.

In Remnants of War, 13 year old Guen Tai N’tun shows a mother cradling a baby in a domestic scene, with a wok hanging on the wall, a stove, a thermos flask and a dog. All is peaceful except the woman’s imagination, depicted in a cloud-like thought bubble. It is filled with flames, rockets, a disintegrating tank and a burning house.

War Destroyed My Countryside, by 11 year old Guen Ti Tai N’tou has helicopters flying above crying peasants, a grieving child by the dead body of its mother. A soldier is shooting from the top of a rock.

Idealised visions of peace shine through many of the pictures. Friendship and Peace in the World by ten year old Gueng Huang Ming Chou has a group in various types of traditional dress standing on a globe, above which is flying a large dove. Big stylized flowers decorate three corners of the picture.

There are also some imaginative conceptual themes. World of No War by 13 year old Ray Gok Huong depicts a blackened, fiery globe disfigured by a tank. Out of the charred mess emerges a rainbow with figures running along it. In the distance they are tiny but the nearer ones can be seen entering a green sunny land. A tree shades a happy throng and a dolphin frolics in the sea.

The exhibition is on the first floor of Naha City Hall until January 26. More paintings can be seen at Nago City Central Library from Jan 23 to Feb 10. The Kusunuchi Peace and Culture Hall’s show finishes today, Thursday Jan 18. All these shows are free. At the Sakima Museum there is a combined exhibition of the Vietnamese childrens’ paintings and photographs by Ishikawa Fumihiro. Entrance is Adult ¥700, Junior & High School ¥500, Child ¥300.

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