Art in Alleyways

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A graffiti wall in an alleyway neighborhood in District 1, HCMC.

The HCMC urban landscape is in need of more creative works. Graffiti. Installation. Performance. It is a sense of public engagement that we lack in HCMC. Or in other words, what we have is event-specific rather than casual public engagement.

Recently, Pop-Up City posted an example of urban activation in the Azores Archipelago. The timber installation, ‘Casa Quarteirão’, created by Italian Studio Orizzontale, responds to the brief on site-specific cultural creation.

Alleyway activations have always involved aesthetics, from those in Chicago embedding green infrastructures to those in Sydney gracing the urban landscape with original artworks. Or the modern aesthetics of the bars and cafes hidden in Melbourne laneways.

Here in Sai Gon, I re-discovered a graffiti wall in a semi-private alleyway neighborhood of District 1. “Re-discovered” because a few years ago when I first visited this place, I heard that “they” were going to destroy the wall soon. Glad that it lasts.

While street/public art is inevitably an expression, in Sai Gon it is also a luxury. Perhaps the fading sense of community leads to and results in the lack of art. Or perhaps it is because of strict yet vague regulations that seem to favor institutional public art. Or perhaps youngsters prefer to live elsewhere but alleyways, and they’re usually the main authors of street art.

Sometimes I doubt the demand for good art in our society. But whenever I see people gathering around taking selfies in front of a piece of remaining public art, I know there is a consistently high desire for beautifying backgrounds in the city.

Selfies aside, beautifying backgrounds always make more joyful strolls.

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