Documenting the knowledge, skills and practices of the last remaining sign-painters in Ho Chi Minh City

Project Details


This project will document hand-painted advertising signs in Ho Chi Minh City and the material knowledge of the artisans who make them. Each sign is unique, combining striking calligraphy, vivid colour combinations and the artisan’s instinctive expressions. This type of signage began to proliferate in Saigon after French colonial rule ended but the advent of digital print-making from the 1990s onwards transformed commercial advertising and official signage in Vietnam. Plastic signs with printed or vinyl lettering that are cheaper and quicker to obtain have largely replaced hand-painted signs in Ho Chi Minh City.

The last cohort of skilled sign painters is ageing, and younger generations are reluctant to enter a declining trade. There is, therefore, an urgent need to record the last remaining artisans’ knowledge and practices. This project will document the different types of materials, tools, and techniques used by artisans to paint signs and shopboards in Ho Chi Minh City. Visual documentation (audio-visual recording; photography) will create a lasting record of this material knowledge. How this knowledge is embedded in the lived experiences of artisans will be documented in ethnographic field notes and in transcripts of semi-structured interviews and life histories.

The research will engage ethnographically with four artisans in their communities. The results of this work will be distributed to artisans, their community, the Young Vietnamese Artists’ Association and academic and heritage networks in Vietnam and the UK. The digital record produced by this project will therefore be used by diverse audiences and for diverse purposes.
Effective start/end date1/10/221/04/24


  • British Museum: £11,484.00