Digitizing art and culture in Hanoi: How Vietnamese Cultural Professionals are harnessing Digital Technology to communicate a contemporary image of Vietnam


This paper will investigate the current nature of the creative industries in Hanoi, Vietnam. It will explore the art and culture sector, in particular, by looking at how art institutions are harnessing new digital technologies in order to create engaging, interactive digital platforms and to digitize their art and cultural collections. While there is a great deal of literature on the creative industries across Europe and the U.S. with regards to the creative economy and creative class (Caves, 2003; Pratt, 2008; Henry, 2007), there is less on the creative industries in relation to Asia, broadly speaking, and there is a gap in literature on the current state of the art and culture sector in Vietnam. It is important to take Hanoi, and Vietnam more broadly, as a case in point because it lags behind rest of South East Asia in terms of harnessing the potential of its creative industries as part of the economy (Nguyen, 2019: 5). Furthermore, the art and culture sector is only just starting to digitize its art and cultural collections.

The Vietnamese government (Sustainable Development Strategy for 2020 and vision for 2030, 2019) has positioned the creative industries as a major sector for national development and well as for international cooperation, in order to transform the nation’s image from a factory warehouse – created largely by the West - to a professional creative industry – an image created by Vietnamese themselves. This generation of culture professionals are showcasing a new national image of Vietnam by harnessing digital platforms, allowing them to control the narrative and image they wish to portray about Vietnam. Digital technology has “shifted general notions of visuality” (Mirzoeff, 1998: 3) and has accelerated the scope and range of visual communications online. As Rogoff (cited in Mirzoeff, 1998: 25) argues, “in today’s world meanings circulate visually” and, as a result, new digital platforms enable actors to communicate using visual methods. But what is it that these culture professionals are trying to communicate and what narrative are they trying to convey about Vietnam?

The paper will present findings from 30 interviews with art and cultural professionals from galleries and museums across Hanoi as well as findings from a case study on two art and cultural institutions – Matca Space for Photography and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Initial findings show that digital platforms have provided professionals and their institutions more freedom to push boundaries in terms of what type of artwork they can show. Using digital platforms has also enabled more international connection and the ability to raise awareness internationally on, for instance, Vietnamese photography and Vietnamese women. Together, the findings have the potential to show how digital platforms allow Vietnamese cultural professionals an agency to curate a contemporary narrative on Vietnamese culture.