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QR83: “Lịch sử soi chiếu” (Gazing into History)

Artist: Trần Hậu Yên Thế

Medium: Interactive installation with mirrors
Size: 7.0m x 1.8m

Trần Hậu Yên Thế’s “Lịch sử soi chiếu”

In 1484, emperor Lê Thánh Tông, a noble and intelligent leader as well as a Taoism worshiper, made a decision to establish stone stelae of doctors at the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu Quốc Tử Giám) to commemorate the intellects who passed the exams and to spread the idea of educational importance. 82 stone stelae of doctors at the Temple of Literature are national treasures and the world heritage, reminding us that history is the mirror for the next generations to look beyond. “Lịch sử soi chiếu” artwork is an installation art using three big panels of mirrors to reflect the image of three stone stelae of doctors, which represents three different typical types of stelae at the Temple of Literature.


The artist chose the mirror material to ask the next generation to look into the models of the previous generation to honor studies and to be proud of the nation's studious tradition. 
On the three epitaphs engraved the words: "Talented and moral people are nation’s core strength" - timeless and profound teaching by the ancients about a scholar’s dignity and responsibilities, and on how to appreciate the talented. The artist of this famous quote is Thân Nhân Trung - an official with great merit under emperor Lê Thánh Tông. He struggled for 40 years to finally attain the last degree of the scholarly ranking. The court assigned him the responsibility to select talents for the country because he was a person of patriotism, nobility, and he was highly responsible for his assignment. He strongly expressed his opinion on how to honor the talented and about their importance in keeping the nation strong. A country can only be developed if it appreciates its people and knows how to apply their talents to good work for the country. Ever since the saying "Talented and moral people are the nation's core strength" has become a profound philosophy that affirms the significance of education and training the talented for the country. Thus, education stands first in the top national policies, and recruiting talents is prime nation-building tasks.


On the epitaphs, in addition to the inscription with the above profound meaning is the image of honeysuckle flowers winding with birds. Honeysuckle also represents the dignity of the scholar and of the sages. This is a plant that is not afraid of the cold, even blooms in the snow. Images of honeysuckle commonly appeared in the art of the Lý and Trần dynasties. Honeysuckle is seen in many artifacts found at the National Assembly Building’s excavation site. On the stelae at the Temple of Literature, the honeysuckle motif pattern combined with lotus and chrysanthemum was very popular from the time of the Lê sơ dynasty to the Lê Trung hưng dynasty. By using the image of the honeysuckle flowers in three different styles on the mirror works, the artist shows his respect for traditional patterns from the nation’s feudal periods.

ONA-JICA Project – Phase 2