Many people may consider broken pieces of glass discarded on the streets as an unpleasant sight or even a dangerous hazard, but an American expatriate in HCM City has been using them to make beautiful, expressive artworks.
US expat Gabriel Meranze Levitt has been in Việt Nam for 12 years, and is a co-founder of a nine-year-old social enterprise in HCM City that focuses on domestic-helper services. He lives in District 2 with his partner and 2.5-year old daughter.
Three years ago, when he travelled to New Zealand to visit his friends, he was greatly inspired by how they had been using their free time after work on art activities, such as music and painting.
“It really wasn’t until I saw that my friends were doing these things that I remembered that I used to be passionate about art. Art in general is something that was missing from my life,” he told Việt Nam News.
After his trip, he began looking for old floor tiles as he had once made mosaics with this kind of material. However, when he could not find a wide variety of tiles, he soon discovered an abundant alternative: discarded glass pieces.
He began picking up pieces of glass that he found on the streets, and learned how to cut and design with glass by mostly watching YouTube videos.
At first he focused on making small, simple, practical items such as photo frames or mirrors to hone his skills in shaping the materials. After six months of improving his craft, he began making art pieces such as wall decorations and sculptures.
“I am constantly taking glass home with me when I see it on the streets,” he said, adding that he collects everything because he does not seek out specific glass materials for specific projects.
His works rely only on what he finds on the streets.
Being self-taught, he has had to overcome many challenges, such as working out how best to distribute the weight of different parts of an art piece so that it can be safely hung, or how to correctly glue mirror pieces to maintain their reflective appeal.
“Finding time to do it is the probably biggest challenge because I work full time doing what I do with the social enterprise, and I take care of my child also. I’m limited right now to about two hours in the evening after my child has gone to sleep.”
Artworks can take from around three hours to many weeks, depending on the complexity.
Passion for glass and art
Initially, he chose glass due to its abundance but now it has become a true passion.
“Being able to take that discarded, relatively dangerous material and make it into either a work of art or something more basic like frames for mirrors, it feels incredible,” Levitt said.
One look inside his house quickly reveals his artistic spirit, with walls of photos in beautiful glass frames and hanging decorations that dazzle in the wind.
He has created many pieces with high artistic appeal, such as a sculpture of a cloud with small pieces of dazzling glass raindrops hanging beneath it, or a mirror shaped like a smile, with countless small pieces of glass intricately glued together to form two lips.
His favourite work is called “Mystic Positivity” — a hanging sculpture of a little girl made with construction foam and covered with glass and mirror pieces. It took him five weeks to complete, and was inspired by his energetic daughter.
“It is trying to encapsulate the positivity – I have no idea where it comes from – of my child whenever she interacts with anything. She just has this outlook on life that is amazing. It has given me a new outlook on life, too.”
His friends and families have been very encouraging towards his work, especially his partner who is very supportive of his passion, and his daughter who loves to interact and come up with names for his works.
Levitt has created mirror art pieces as gifts for people close to him, he said, adding that he feels pressure to create works that are more impressive than the last.
Currently his passion is not business-oriented; he is only focusing on making artistic expressions to keep in his home.
Even before deciding to work with glass, Levitt had always wanted to use old materials that people threw out, since is committed to taking care of the environment.
His artworks made with discarded glass are a testament to the fact that the raw materials of trash can be converted into useful, meaningful art, he said.
Levitt encourages people interested in art to consider materials around them that are abundant, which could mean wood or even seashells.
“By using materials around you, you don’t need to use newly manufactured materials. It’s a way to treat Mother Earth in a more sustainable way,” he said.
“Everything you see here started out as trash, and that’s certainly not the state that it’s in now,” he added, as he stood surrounded by beautiful, intricate art pieces made from the simplest of materials.
Artworks play role in fighting COVID-19 in Vietnam
Under the scorching sun of Hanoi, a group of young artists meticulously wield their brushes to paint colorful art murals to help combat COVID-19.
Nguyen Manh Quang, the group’s representative, said the project ‘Fighting the Pandemic like Fighting Your Enemies’ was aimed at honoring frontliners and calling for social awareness in protecting public health.
“We first painted a 15-square-meter mural in Hoan Kiem District’s Phuc Tan Commune,” Quang said.
“We later received support to make big murals, ranging from 20 square meters to 105 square meters, in Dong Da, Ha Dong, and Tay Ho Districts.”
The next destination is Cau Giay District. The group sets a goal to cover walls of 10 to 20 square meters in the Vietnamese capital with art on the theme of COVID-19 fighting and prevention.
Quang said the project was funded by artists and some donors.
He expressed the expectation that district authorities and Hanoians could give helping hands to spread the idea, especially finding big, plain walls for these artworks.
|A team of three to four artists can complete a mural of 20 square meters in two to three days in Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|On this mural, the 5K message conveying the Ministry of Health’s advice and warnings against COVID-19 is visualized in Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|An artist braves Hanoi’s hot weather to complete a mural. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|A mural delivers a message hailing social solidarity to fight against COVID-19 in Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|A nurse ‘angel’ protecting the earth from COVID-19 is painted on a mural in Tay Ho District, Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
Woman’s ‘zero dong supermarket’ a lifesaver for some in Mekong Delta
Duong Thanh Ha of Mekong Delta’s Can Tho City has set up a charity stall with vegetables and foods to help people facing economic hardships due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
For nearly a month now she and her husband have been waking up before dawn to pick vegetables in their garden and take them to her ‘zero dong supermarket’ behind Phuoc Long Pagoda in Le Binh Ward, Cai Rang District.
It is actually a small stall with many varieties of farm produce that Ha harvests or others donate.
While she was busy stacking the items on the shelves, some traders from nearby wet markets stopped by to donate vegetables.
From time to time people would drive up, and place bags of rice, instant noodles, sugar, or cooking oil in gaps in the shelves and quickly leave.
Scrap collectors, lottery ticket sellers and motorbike taxi drivers show up now and then to grab for some supply. Seeing a timid old woman selling lottery tickets taking only a handful of vegetables, Ha said kindly: “Please take more. You are [also] welcome to come back and take more if you want.”
Duong Thanh Ha’s ‘zero dong supermarket’ has a variety of farm produce for people to choose from and take for free. Photo by VnExpress/Dien Phan.
Ha, 60, used to be a merchant, but retired two years ago and handed the family business to her children.
In late May, when many farmers growing sweet potato in the neighboring province of Vinh Long could not sell their harvest due to the Covid outbreak, they offered to give it to Ha so that she could distribute it to those in need.
She rented a vehicle for a few days to transport the sweet potato from Vinh Long to Can Tho, and many people who had received it from her said: “We are very grateful… Having them for breakfast and lunch helped us save some money to pay our rent.”
Ha realized then that many poor workers were feeling the economic pinch caused by the pandemic. They were hoping to eat reasonably well, but were helpless as their incomes fell or disappeared, and that was when she decided to open the ‘supermarket.’
At first she only put up vegetables and fruits from her garden, but within a few days, as word spread about her charity effort, many people began to bring in food while others living far away contributed money for her to buy more vegetables.
She also uses some of her own money to stock the stall.
“At first I could only help with things I had. But thanks to benefactors from far and near, I have been able to maintain this for nearly a month now.”
In the beginning she would occasionally ask her adopted daughter to watch over the stall. But this made people afraid to come in since they could not see anyone inside. Since then Ha is inside almost all day until 6 p.m, only going for a short break at noon.
Besides picking vegetables and stacking the shelves, she also spends time talking to people who come in to assuage their embarrassment at taking things for free.
Ha with a basket of squash at her ‘zero dong supermarket’in Cai Rang District, Can Tho City.Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tram.
There are times when she sees people wearing gold jewelry and coming in luxury cars stop by her stall. She still welcomes them, helps them choose what they want but advises them to take only enough.
“If they have a need, I’m willing to share with them. It could be that they were not able to earn money that day.”
Do Thi Phuong Dao, 44, who sells spring rolls nearby, said: “There was less and less stuff at Ha’s stall after a few days. I thought the place would close down soon. But after a few days I saw many people bring food to donate, and so now every day hundreds of people come to take the goods. I have seen Ha choose fresh items to put on the shelf and take home less fresh ones to eat herself.”
Ha said she is “so happy that I cannot sleep” at seeing so many people make donations.
“The community’s cooperation has helped this stall survive for a long time,” she said, adding that she has the same joy with those receiving free produce from the stall.
At around 6 p.m., knowing the stall was about to close, Chau Thi Chi, 67, who sells lottery tickets, hurriedly comes in to grab some broccoli to cook with pork she bought on the way home.
She said: “Before the epidemic I used to sell more than 200 tickets a day, but now I can only sell half even if I head out early and return home late. Everyone is feeling the economic crunch, so they rarely buy lottery tickets.
“I have been coming to this stall every day since it was first set up and could save the money needed to buy vegetables. The vegetables here are very fresh in the evening and there is a large variety to choose from.”
Lifestart Foundation donates e-bikes to disadvantaged students in Quang Nam
|Three students receive e-bikes from the Lifestart Foundation – PHOTO: NHAN TAM|
QUANG NAM – Lifestart Foundation donated three electric bicycles valued at VND12 million to disadvantaged students at Le Thanh Tong and Dung Si Dien Ngoc schools in the central province of Quang Nam.
The students are all from underprivileged families who only own aging bicycles.
Karen Leonard, Order of Australia Medal, Founder of Lifestart Foundation, said, “Apart from supporting disadvantaged students with the Lifestart Foundation Education Scholarships, we are also thrilled to reach out to the larger community to provide the students with transportation. The provision of much needed e-bikes reduces some of the dangers for the students when they have to travel far for studies and enables them to travel long distances much quicker.”
The donation is one of the many activities of the Lifestart Foundation community. Founded in 2000 by Leonard, an Australian, and supported by a team of dedicated volunteers, Lifestart Foundation is a grassroots, not-for-profit charity that helps disadvantaged Vietnamese families become self-sufficient.
This is achieved through their two largest projects, Education Scholarships for disadvantaged students and their Housing Improvement project.
To date, Lifestart Foundation’s investment in the disadvantaged youth of Central Vietnam is in excess of VND26 billion (around 1,500,000 AUD).
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