For the past seven years, Vietnamese artist Huynh Phuong Do, from Hoi An, has been making a name for himself by carving beautiful portraits of Buddhist deities and historical figures out of bamboo stumps and roots.
Huynh Phuong Do relaunched his artistic career completely by accident. He had been carving wood since he was 15-years-old, but living in Hoi An, famously known as Vietnam’s Bamboo Village, it was hard for him to stand out among dozens of other talented craftsmen and sculptors. But one day, seven years ago, floods in the upper reaches of the Thu Bon River brought bamboo stumps to the river bank in front of his house. The debris stirred something in Do’s mind, and he took a few stumps to make sculptures out of them. Little did he know this was the beginning of a very successful business. Today, Huynh Phuong Do has his own sculpture showroom, and his works can be found in over 20 Hoi An souvenir shops. He spends all his days contemplating bamboo roots, thinking of ways to give them a realistic human appearance, and struggles to make between 200 and 300 pieces a month to keep up with demand from tourists.
These days, bamboo roots aren’t washed up to Do’s doorstep anymore, so he has to go search for them in the nearby forests, often using bulldozers and diggers to pull them out of the ground. He then washes and dries them before starting the carving process. The artist says he has little difficulty turning seemingly worthless stumps into unique works of art that captivate both locals and tourists, thanks to the years he spent as an apprentice with the elders of elders of Kim Bong, another Vietnamese village famous for its wood carvings. Apart from popular figures like Bodhidharma, Lohan, Guan Yu or Zhang Fei, the talented sculptor is also able to carve clients’ faces into his bamboo roots, a skill that has won over many customers.
Photo: Anne and Monica
Each of Huynh Phuong Do works is unique, thanks to the intricate root shapes of the bamboo stumps he works with. The roots are actually the main appeal of his art, as he uses them as beards, eyebrows and hair.
Photo: Sean Ellwood
Photo: Going Slowly