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Vietnamese Designer Pursues Fresh Approach to Making History Known

Self-taught graphic designer Michael Angle is passionate about Vietnam’s history and wants to spread that love to everybody.

While it’s always good for the younger generation to know about their country’s history, getting them hooked on historical facts and events is always a challenge. History classes are rarely what students look forward to, and visiting museums to see historical artefacts are not what they get excited about, either.

One self-taught artist in Thai Binh is sharing Vietnam’s history in such a way that appeals to everybody, including teenagers and young adults.

Going by the pseudonym Michael Angle, the Vietnamese graphic designer makes ball-jointed dolls and toy figures that resemble historical characters in different periods of history. Inspiration for the project came as he was doing restoration work on an ancient figure.

“The idea came to me when I was restoring some paintings and statues of General Pham Tu, which are now on showcase at a local family’s ancestor worship house in the south,” Michael tells Urbanist Hanoi via Facebook Messenger.

“The historical materials and stories I read inspired me to start a project named SSEN DOLL, and I think of it as the start of a passionate journey to bring historical, mythical characters to history lovers through figures, cards, and souvenirs such as T-shirts and phone cases.”

The artist took to social media to showcase his work. SSEN DOLL is a Facebook page where he posts his sketches and designs for the dolls and toy figures. Ball-jointed dolls are dolls with spherical joints that allow them to be more flexible than other types of dolls, according to Michael.

“These dolls are modelled on the human bone structure, and they have joints that can be moved to create different postures: sitting, standing, bending their arms or legs, dancing, even doing some yoga poses…,” he says. “These joints have a spherical shape, and that’s why the dolls are called ball-jointed dolls. The majority of the dolls are made in the three Asian countries of Japan, South Korea and China. Now they have started to be produced in Vietnam.”

In excruciating details

In his designs, viewers can find familiar historical figures like the heroic Warrior Bà Triệu, Emperor Quang Trung, General Lý Thường Kiệt, or mythical folktales like the love story between Trọng Thủy and Mị Châu.

Bà Triệu.

Emperor Quang Trung.

Lý Thường Kiệt.

The paintings show a great deal of attention to detail, since Michael studies each period of history carefully before drawing the characters’ clothing, headwear and weapons.

Mị Châu - Trọng Thủy.

“Every job has its own challenges, and the biggest challenge of my project is the process of sketching historical figures,” he says. “Because to be able to draw this type of figures you have to have a certain understanding of the place, time, and cultural characteristics of the period they lived in. And you'd want your reconstructions of them to be as close to the real things as possible.

“At the moment there are some groups that focus on making the cultural quintessence of the historical periods widely known, which is very useful for my team because we can join them, learn from them, even ask for feedback – compliments or criticisms.”

His work was born out of a pure passion to spread his love for Vietnam’s history.

“I take inspiration from historical, mythical heroes and traditional cultures because I want to bring my products to people who care about history and are interested in knowing more about it. This is a long journey which I hope, with my humble ability, can convey and spread my passion and love for my origin, my country to others,” he says.

Queen Trường Lạc.

Mị Châu.

Queen Thượng Dương.

Emperor Trần Nhân Tông.

He adds: “I want my products to be thoroughly Vietnamese and made from environmental-friendly, non-toxic materials. I’m taking advantage of raw materials found in my hometown to highlight the Vietnamese cultural factors in my products.”

A handcrafted process

The young artist works with a team but doesn’t see them on a daily basis. Most of his creative process is done manually, especially the sketches, then he will put them into a computer for coloring.

“The process starts from making sketches of the characters, creating wax models and molds, to making their clothes, armors and accessories. All of these stages are done by hand, machines and equipment are only there to provide support, because I want the products to be as refined, detailed and aesthetically-pleasing as possible,” Michael says.

His project has been ongoing for more than a year. The dolls and figures are in the making, and Michael hopes he will be able to show the manufacturing process through videos and images in the near future.

Bùi Thị Xuân.

Hai Bà Trưng.

Trần Hưng Đạo.

Thủy Tinh.

“The project is small-scale and there are still a lot of challenges ahead, but I have had some initial achievements including a good, consistent number of followers on the project’s Facebook page,” he says.

“If there is a message I’d like to send to young people about Vietnam’s history, it is that I hope those who are passionate about history can overcome their own challenges to live with that passion — do something in your power to spread that love despite the many difficulties you may face. And the biggest difficulty would be taking criticisms to learn and better yourself every day.”

Tiên Dung - Chử Đồng Tử.

Hồ Xuân Hương.

Queen Tống Thị.

 

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