Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Nguyen Anh Quan put on makeup as the character of Trieu Khuong Dan with a face of an emperor © Nguyen Anh Quan

The Art of Masks and Makeup in Hat Boi

Hat boi is a Vietnamese intangible traditional performing art that has taken shape and developed during Vietnam’s history and is still preserved. It is form of traditional opera which has a five-hundrend-year-old  history. It contains features close to the cultures of many other countries in Asia.

My name is Anh Quan, I am sophomore at The Ho Chi Minh City University of Culture in Vietnam. When I started in junior high school, I had opportunity to study and enjoy hat boi. The images, stage, eyes, and gestures of hat boi was so exciting. But I was strongly impressed by artists’ faces. This emotion is always with me in my thoughts.

Hat boi relies on the principles of symbolization and stylization. These principles profoundly influenced typical hat boi dance and gestures and makeup, which hat boi in distinguished from other traditional performing arts.

Being the essences of hat boi, gestures and dance are performed based on several symbolic and stylized rules with the aim of expressing the feeling and emotion of the characters and other implications of the plays.

Artists of hat boi have to understand the (generally and responsibility of building a camp symbolization and stylization and when they makeup and. Makeup is definitely the outward essence hat boi indicate the specific and personality of every character.

The artificial materials for making-up a disguise includes as followings: Multi-colors-lipsticks, powder in multi-colors, the blackening-wax or the ash-like-black powder, the zinc-powder in golden-red– a mixture of the deep-red and golden powder, powder in blue, in green, and in yellow.

With many special kinds of professional tools, such tool sticks and fingernail-like knives that look like spoons— flat and made of wood.

I observed artists’ makeup; I dreamt that I could do makeup like them. I want to pursue my dream of being a character of hat boi.

With the help of a thanh bình artist, I fulfilled my dream. I feel the virtuosity, sophistication, and passion of the thanh binh artist when he made me up.

The face painting is an original feature in hat boi and other forms of opera in Southeast Asia. The makeup in hat boi (chiefly for males, rarely for females) includes three main parts: painting the complexion, drawing lines on the face, and pasting false beards. There is nothing called the realistic things to identify but absolutely living—symbols in the art of the hat boi with its special ways of distinguishing for whole characters.

Looking at the face makeup, the audiences can understand whether a character is good or bad, loyal or disloyal, etc. Below are some basic colors used in hat boi makeup to distinguish character.

  • Red: loyal, unyielding person
  • White: artful flatterer
  • Green: intelligent person or person with venturesome spirit or short life
  • Yellow: gentle and virtuous person
  • Black: furious and vigorous person

The above special meanings may be generally understood and impel interest in the many kinds of characters and characteristics in traditional culture and art of the hat boi. Hat boi characters currently mainly perform at temples.

The young generations do not like the traditional arts, including hat boi. Few young people are passionate about traditional art, and this situation make training young people quite difficult.

Over the past several years, Ho Chi Minh City Hat Boi Theater has organized program called “The school stage” to introduce hat boi to students.

This program includes the history of formation and development of hat boi, dance and makeup art, in addition to the performance of historical topics, excerpts about children to raise patriotism, with the hope that students will have the opportunity to learn more about hat boi.

I think this is working very well for young people and will compel young people to love and have positive emotions with the traditional stage performances. I hope The Ho Chi Minh City Hat Boi Theater will create other programs to promote performance for the community.

I am happy to have had a chance to experience and share excited valid content of hat boi for everybody. Vietnam has many traditional arts Hat boi is one of them. For safeguarding and delivering hat boi, I think the young generations have to focus on studying intangible culture of their country.

Vietnam is a friendly destination and always welcomes everyone, we have so many stories to share. When we meet together, I will be glad to “play” the hat boi for you because I really become “an actor” of hat boi by my heart in my dream.

(Reference: The Ho Chi Minh City Journalists’ Association and Youth Publishing House with The Financing of Asean Telecoms and Viet Society. 1992. The Art of Mask Making – Up in Hat boi, Page. 5 – 14)