Vietnam isn't exactly a bastion of free expression. Freedom House declares the country "not free," Transparency International ranks the country 123/176 on its corruption index (tying it with Sierra Leone and Mozambique), and the Committee to Protect Journalists indicates the imprisonment of 232 journalists in 2012 reached an all-time high.
In a country where freedom of expression remains an idea, not a practice, street artists appear undeterred. Saigon's urban canvas is slowly emerging as a place where artists express feelings that in other outlets would be curtailed. The street art scene is young in Vietnam, but the preliminary art looks very promising.
Most of the graffiti in Saigon features tags and throw ups of particular artists:
Outside artists visiting Vietnam provide inspiration for up and coming street artists. French street artist Julien Malland, a.k.a. Seth Globepainter, traveled to Vietnam in 2010. His murals appeared in Saigon.
El Mac, a photorealist graffiti artist from Los Angeles, California, has visited the country a couple of times and left his mark. For the piece below, El Mac teamed up with Shamsia Hassani, perhaps Afghanistan's first female graffiti artist. Hassani added to the piece: " بعضی حرفها را باید دید ،بعضی حرفها گفتنی نیست." which translates to "Some Of The Things You See Are Not Worth Mentioning."
Here is a video of El Mac painting a mural outside of Sàn Art, an independent artist space in Saigon. It is based on a photo of Kosoom, the grandmother of El Mac's girlfriend.
Not all graffiti is art. These spray painted advertisements, which are ubiquitous in Saigon, are for concrete cutters.
Follow The Mantle on Twitter @TheMantle
Graffiti, Street Art, Vietnam