Behind The Mask exhibition offers a glimpse into Vietnamese classical drama

An art exhibition at the Viet Nam Tuong Theatre in Hanoi offers art lovers and tourists a chance to learn about the art of tuồng, or classical drama.

Behind The Mask exhibition offers a glimpse into Vietnamese classical drama
Behind The Mask exhibition invites audience to look beyond the colours and strokes to find other distinctive aspects of the long-established performing art of Tuong. — Courtesy Photo of Lune Production

Titled Behind the Mask, the exhibition also aims to raise local people’s awareness of and introduce foreign tourists to this unique traditional art form, a Vietnamese cultural gem that is gradually losing popularity in modern society.

Though the facial make-up may be the most characteristic and outstanding feature of tuồng, it is not everything. Behind the Mask invites audiences to look beyond the colours and strokes to find other distinctive aspects of this long-established performing art.

With a history of around 800 years, tuồng has steadily developed and enhanced its various aspects from make-up and costume to music.

The Viet Nam Tuong Theatre has been making significant contributions to preserving and developing this traditional art form. With the aim of offering visitors the chance to learn about this art form, the exhibition is divided into four sections.

The ‘History Room’ on the ground floor provides a brief introduction to the long history of tuồng.

Alongside images of the art form’s founding figures, the venue also showcases some ancient tuồng scripts written in Nôm (an ancient Vietnamese ideographic script).

The significant role of the Viet Nam Tuong Theatre in the preservation of the art genre has been recognised by the State with the Labour Order, first class, and the Independence Order, first class.

The theatre has also won several awards at national drama festivals including gold medals at the 2019 National Festival of Tuong and Folk Songs and 2012 Festival of Vietnamese Nationalities’ Traditional Music Instruments, and the A Prize at the 1996 Theatre Awards from the Viet Nam Association of Theatre Artists.

Right opposite the ‘History Room’ is a set of four collages by tuồng painter Nguyen Hoang Phong.


Using traditional materials like dó (poonah) paper and bamboo blinds and shades, the collages depict patterns inspired by tuồng masks as well as geometric motifs from the bronze drums of the Bronze Age Dong Son Culture in ancient Vietnam.

The make-up section showcases more than 30 hand-drawn masks portraying various characters in classical tuồng plays such as Trieu Khuong Dan in the play Nữ Tướng Đào Tam Xuân (Female General Đào Tam Xuân), and Khuong Linh Ta in Sơn Hậu. Here the tour guide will reveal certain unique tuồng make-up techniques you may not have known before.

On the way to the upper floor, where the exhibition continues, visitors can see black-and-white photos depicting scenes from famous tuong plays performed by artists from the Viet Nam Tuong Theatre.

The upper floor has a display of performing costumes and musical instruments.

Costumes from the folk play Nghêu Sò Ốc Hến and the classical play Nữ Tướng Đào Tam Xuân are placed opposite each other, allowing the audience to compare the differences between the two main genres of tuồng.

The juxtaposed section showcases musical instruments such as drum, clarinet, nhị (bowed two-string instrument), đàn bầu (monochord), and đàn tranh (16-string zither), all commonly used in contemporary tuồng performances.

Also on this floor is a large altar to tuồng ancestors where, before every performance, artists offer incense sticks to pray for a successful show.

Behind the Mask, the first permanent exhibition of its kind, is part of a series of activities celebrating the Viet Nam Tuồng Theatre's 60th anniversary.

The exhibition at 51A Duong Thanh Street, Hoan Kiem District, is open from 9am to 6pm every day, and entry is free. Free tours with guides are also available.


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