It was this personal collection that formed the basis of what was to become Bưu Hoa. The name is a Sino-Vietnamese word widely used to refer to postage stamps before 1975 – a year before Vietnam adopted a unified postal service. Đức developed an interest in the contextual function of stamps: how historically they were used to “convey or propagate information to people during the Vietnam War”, but how now they are often used as practical mediums for artists to display their work, often without “careful research into their technical principles”. It’s true! The designs, inscriptions, symbols and palettes reveal valuable insights into the cultural sensibilities of the period from which they originate. It is for this reason that Đức sees himself as “a person who travels back in time and then brings those things back to the present”.
The collection is largely made up of inventories stored by the Vietnam Stamp Company, which were eventually sold to antique dealers. In addition to these and the stamps her uncle gave her, the pages are lined with stamps from specialized books. Đức admits the process is difficult. He says the scarcity of collectibles is a consequence of Vietnam’s Golden Age stamp books being burned or thrown away when Vietnam declared peace in 1975. Fortunately, a handful were transported to the North or held back by traders, a few of whom Đức managed to get his hands on. Because some were damaged, he took it upon himself to patch them up “in my own way, with the hope of bringing them back to life”.
Đức chose a stamp he most admired: a thematic stamp depicting women working by candlelight, designed by artist Tran Luong and released in 1962 by the Tien Bo printing house. Remarking that the artist had omitted his name, Đức was struck by a “provocative feeling that the artist wanted to hide it”. He noticed that whoever was responsible for this peculiarity “skillfully wrote the number of years the stamp had been issued on the blackboard, much like how a teacher would teach the times tables to a class.” It was the joy of seeing that the artist had cleverly hidden his name inside a symbol placed vertically on the right side of the stamp that invigorated Đức to share this collection.
Đức’s work allows these designs to outlive their intended use. He hopes the project will serve as a cultural resource and encourage young designers to explore Vietnam’s rich history of design and hand-drawing.