Most of the Asian art I saw in pop culture or art class growing up was Japanese and Chinese. At the time, I generalized it and just thought of it as "Asian art". As I've gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I've come to respect the fact that though there are certainly a lot of similarities between the art of Asian countries, there are also a lot of things that are specific to each culture.
Being Vietnamese I've been spending the recent years of my life trying to learn about and embrace my roots. For me, there was no better way to do that than to explore it through my art. I wanted to depict things that were distinctly Vietnamese such as an áo dài or Hạ Long Bay. Tết was also an opportunity for me to showcase an example of something specific to Vietnam in the Vietnamese Zodiac and how it is slightly different from the more widely known Chinese Zodiac. The Vietnamese Zodiac replaces the Ox and the Rabbit with the Water Buffalo and the Cat respectively.
This small but important detail allowed me to make something that is Asian art but also specifically Vietnamese.
The 2022 Lunar New Year brings us the Year of the Tiger. As a kid in kindergarten, I remember often lying to my classmates and teacher telling them that I had two pet tigers at home. I'm sure nobody believed me but it was something I mentioned more than a couple of times. I can't explain why I did this but I think it was just because I loved the way tigers looked and that love carries on to this day. I now find a lot of joy drawing and painting them. Another thing I remember as a kid was seeing my parents sit on tiny plastic stools when they would eat. This was certainly something I never saw at any of my friends' houses so I thought it was just something that only my household did.
When I eventually found out that it was a part of Vietnamese food culture, I felt a sense of pride seeing how much of their home country habits my parents kept with them even after so many years of living in Canada.
Late last year, I had an idea to combine my love of drawing tigers with my mission to create more art depicting Vietnamese life. The result is one of my favourite illustrations I've ever made.
Like the Gregorian New Year, the Lunar New Year is also about looking forward to a new start and cleaning out the negativity of the past year. And it's hard to talk about any Asian culture this past year without talking about the anti-Asian attacks that occurred in 2020 and 2021. The fact that many of the reported attacks were on elderly citizens deeply upset me.
I almost never do pieces related to current news events but this impacted me enough for me to make an illustration I titled "Show Them Your Teeth", depicting a fierce tiger protecting an elderly turtle.
With the new Lunar Year starting now, some old problems will persist and new challenges will arise. But when I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to think about the hardships that the generation before us endured during the war in Vietnam. Through all that fear and uncertainty, they still found reason to celebrate Tết. And a lot of us have reason to celebrate as well. So to the Year of the Tiger, I say Happy Lunar New Year and chúc mừng năm mới!
For more of Brian's artwork, check out his website www.brianhoangart.com or Instagram @brihoangdraws.