The cover art for my book Forests are Gold is from a Vietnam propaganda poster painted in 1977 by artist Lê Thiệp, who studied at the Trường Đại Học Mỹ Thuật [College of Fine Arts] in Hanoi. The full original is below. The caption urges “Plant many trees so the country is rich and beautiful”. The logging trucks hauling out timber to transport to the industrial city in the background symbolize much of that socialist vision, as do the dress of the woman (representing the Thai ethnic minority group) and man (a uniform representing the proletariat worker).
Propaganda art has long been an important tool in communist countries. One artist called the genre “Vietnamese pop-art advertising” in a New York Times article. Propaganda art is still used today to encourage certain practices or ideas in support of the state, and can be found on billboards and walls across the country. Several museums have mounted exhibitions of propaganda art, including the British Museum and National Gallery of Prague. Several books have also been published highlighting individual collections of these posters, including Vietnam Posters, Vietnam Behind the Lines, “60 năm tranh cổ động VN 1945-2005”, and Vietnam Posters and Billboards (the latter two published within Vietnam). The book Mekong Diaries has a number of wartime sketches and works by artists who later became prominent propaganda artists as well. There are a number of shops in Vietnam in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city that sell reproductions of propaganda posters. The hand painted originals are getting harder to find (and are considerably more expensive).
Below are a number of works that I have collected over the years having to do with environmental themes. Ethnic minorities, women and children are particularly linked with the environment in these posters, symbolizing the links between “nature” and “nurturing” by humans, a theme my book addresses in detail.
“Protect forests like nurturing babies!”, artist unknown, date unknown.
“Forests are gold”, 1980, artist Minh Phương (one of the few female propaganda artists).
“Plant more mangrove forests”, 1977, artist unknown.
“Plant trees well”, 1978, artist unknown.
“Forests are gold, [we] must protect forests”, date unknown, artist unknown.
“Planting trees and caring for forests is the responsibility of everybody”, date unknown, artist unknown
“Actively plant trees and reforest”, date unknown, artist unknown.
“Plant trees to remember and thank Uncle Ho [Chi Minh]”, 1972, artist V. Lam.
“We plant trees to remember and thank Uncle Ho [Chi Minh]”, date unknown, artist unknown.
“All citizens plant trees to fight the Americans and save the country”, 1967, artist unknown.
“Develop protection forests – carefully protect national seacoasts!”, 2000s, artist unknown.
Modern propaganda billboard outside Dalat city, photo by Pamela McElwee, 2012.