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Asia Ink

Drawing Under Fire: War Diary of a Young Vietnamese Artist

Drawing Under Fire: War Diary of a Young Vietnamese Artist

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Diary of A Young Artist is a beautiful reproduction of the diary notes and sketches of Vietnamese war artist Pham Thanh Tam, created in the Vietminh trenches while on the front line of the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu.

Tam's sketches have a remarkable poetic and lyrical quality. The wistful tenderness of his portraits of young combatants are a unique testimony to the cruelty of war on one's own soil. There is also something surreal and inspiring in the fact that in the hell hole that was the battle of Dien Bien Phu, the artist found the peace of mind to sketch and draw, a peace of mind close to meditation. His sketches and diary redefine our understanding of the Vietnam War." -Jessica Harrison-Hall, curator of Vietnamese Art, Department of Asia, the British Museum Artist and military reporter, Pham Thanh Tam was 22 years old when he wrote his diaries and created his sketches at the battle of Dien Bien Phu during the Franco-Vietnam War (1946-1954). Tam's visual account benefits from his unique position as an army reporter with access to key information sources, from his frontline perspective, and from his vivid reporting and incisive analysis. As a personal tale, these images express a young man's coming of age during times of war, and underscore his ability to retain a sense of humour and compassion under fire. Carrying only his paint brushes, Chinese ink, chalk, and pencils, Tam trusted his companions with his life as he drew sketches of and for the soldiers. In the tradition of war artists and reporters of the First World War, he moved around the battlefield, through the muddy, bloodied trenches, slept next to cannons, joined digging teams, and marched with the troops. Reproduced here, Tam's pensive, tender, and lyrical sketches are rare documents that have survived the battlefield--fragile images on notepaper that show one artist's ability to sketch beauty in the midst of a battle referred to by journalist Bernard B. Fall as "hell in a very small place.

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