British Museum collections, £12.99
Height: 130.000 mm
Width: 195.000 mm
Purchased with the Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund
Asia OA 2001.6-13.01
Nguyen Van Tru, a drawing
Vietnam, about 1960s-1970s
'Playing tu la ka [a Vietnamese card game]'
This biro drawing depicts four young men playing with a pack of Western cards with four suits and 52 cards. These are quite different from traditional Vietnamese cards, which though the same length as Western cards are a third of the width and come in sets of 32 or 120.
Bao Ninh (born 1952), a soldier in the American-Vietnam War (1965-75) and celebrated novelist, describes the enthusiasm for playing cards in the camps. Men would gamble for cigarettes, snuff, flint, the roots of rosa canina (smoked like marijuana), dried food, 'or photos: photos of women of all kinds, foreign or Vietnamese, ugly or beautiful, or anyone's sweatheart. Any photo was valid currency.' The image is marked with the artist's red seal and the inscription 'playing tu la ka [a Vietnamese card game]'.
Nguyen Van Tru (born 1934) was a boy-soldier in the war of independence againts the French. He first studied art in Shanghai between 1960 and 1963 and then at the Fine Arts College, Hanoi between 1963 and 1967. When he graduated he was sent as a war artist to enemy-occupied territory near Saigon in advance of the Tet Offensive, following the soldiers as they advanced.
J. Harrison-Hall, Vietnam Behind the Lines: Imag (London, British Museum Press, 2002)