Photo: Ho Chi Minh's life explored inside.

Ho Chi Minh Museum

3.5 1

The Ho Chi Minh Museum does exactly what, given its name, you would expect it to do. Opened in 1990 on the anniversary of Ho Chi Minh's birth, the Soviet-style museum is a bizarre hagiography brought to life.

After a visit to the man himself at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, then a spin past the Presidential Palace and his two former homes, and a quick stop at the One Pillar Pagoda, an exploration of the Ho Chi Minh Museum is the next natural stop on a do-it-yourself Ho Chi Minh tour of Hanoi.

The next generation ready for its indoc..., er, education. Photo taken in or around Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

The next generation ready for its indoc..., er, education. Photo: Samantha Brown

The first exhibits are primarily black and white photos, interspersed with books, letters, copies of speeches and the like. Captions are brief but informative, in English and Vietnamese, although there’s a randomness about it all, as you'll find a black and white photo of the tank breaking down the gates at Independence Palace one pillar away from a colour photo of the first successful organ implant in Vietnam in 2004.

On the next floor, you'll be greeted by a massive statue of the man of the honour. It’s awarded its own room, and what a room at that: high ceilings, tiled walls and intricate inlays abound.

The man himself. Photo taken in or around Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

The man himself. Photo: Samantha Brown

Next up are a series of rather bizarre, 1970-style art installations that have the intention of depicting the world at the beginning of the 20th century in order to demonstrate the changes that were going on in the world that had a deep impact on "Ho Chi Minh's thinking and his quest for national liberation".

Themes covered include human hope and achievement versus the degradations of fascism, and you'll see Ho Chi Minh's hideout in Cao Bang Cave rendered as a human brain. It's post-modernism influenced by pop art, with a heavy dose of socialist realism. And in the tradition of Soviet collectivist art, none of the creators are credited by name.

Not the mausoleum. Photo taken in or around Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

Not the mausoleum. Photo: Samantha Brown

The whole thing is sort of mind-blowing; you'll have to see it to believe it. It's hard to imagine what contemporary Vietnamese who visit here make of the place.

The explanation for how this museum came into being is quite simple. After the war with the US ended in 1975, the art world was well into the post-modernist era. The museum was made possible by Vietnam's strongest post-war ally, the then-Soviet Union, with its own history of artistic expression and take on modernity. Planning began in 1977, though construction only got underway in 1985. The museum came to embody a synthesis of various revolutionary and anarchistic artistic movements that would require an advanced degree in modern art to properly unravel, and all of which were dead and buried by the time the museum actually opened.

Oopsy! Photo taken in or around Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

Oopsy! Photo: Samantha Brown

Strewn throughout the exhibits are rather prosaic if historically important documents and photos preserved in plexi-glass flip books to be perused by visitors. We saw no serious perusing going on during our visit; perhaps people were distracted by, oh, maybe the giant pineapple surrounded by massive apples and bananas on a larger-than-life table and chairs.

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Ho Chi Minh Museum

19 Ngoc Ha St, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Daily 08:00-12:00, 14:00-16:30, closed Mon and Fri afternoons.
T: (04) 3846 3757 F: (04) 3843 9837;

Location map for Ho Chi Minh Museum

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