The Muong Cultural Space Museum is a cultural and art institution in Vietnam, deeply inspired by an artist’s desire to reproduce a whole living space of the Muong tribe. The Muong museum was the creation of its owner, Mr. Vu Duc Hieu.
The museum is situated in the hills above a small, narrow limestone valley about 80 km from Hanoi to the west, in Hoa Binh City, where the ancient Muong people used to live. After almost ten years collecting and preparing, and another year for construction, the Muong Cultural Space Museum was officially inaugurated on 16 December 2007 by the chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, with a performance of the symbolic Muong gongs.
This is the first private museum in Vietnam dedicated to the Muong culture. The Muong are one among many ethnic tribes in the big family of Vietnam, a country which has long-age cultural traditions. The museum is composed of two main areas for reproduction and exhibition, respectively. The reproduction area consists of four housing blocks representing the living premises of different classes in a miniature Muong community. The exhibition area, meanwhile, consists of housing blocks for thematic exhibitions, a permanent exhibition, and library. These blocks are connected with each other by internal paths and outdoor exhibition areas.
Museum space © Museum’s documents
The Muong Cultural Space Museum is regarded as a significant center where the cultural values of the Muong people who live in Hoa Binh particularly and in Vietnam in general are restored, demonstrated, and promoted. Visitors come here not only for sight-seeing or entertainment but also to research and study an ethnic tribe that has an extensive history and culture. Many researchers suggest the Muong tribe are the ancient Viet people who used to live in a great area recognized by the world as the Hoa Binh culture. As a consequence, visitors from Vietnam and further afield, students and scientists, are strongly attracted by the museum.
The museum was designed and developed with a new concept that is relevant for current trends in museum development. This is the aim that the museum can appeal to a mass audience and should not have limited access or poor nature. The museum is intended to enable visitors to obtain knowledge and understanding about the Muong culture in a short period of time. This means visitors will be able not to only observe, watch, but also completely immerse themselves in the daily life activities performed by a few Muong families who were invited to come to live in the museum area. These activities include working on the hill plots, rice pounding and threshing, weaving, cooking typical Muong foods, participating in Muong celebratory activities, and playing traditional games.
As the museum regards the Muong cultural space as its focus, the installations in the museum are very simple, friendly, and uncomplicated. However, even the finest details in the museum, such as fences, internal paths, furniture arrangements, even an altar for the Lares, are designed to show or to reproduce specific features of Muong culture in relation to its economics, social life, traditions, and customs—or to put it another way, display a miniature Muong society.
The reproduction area includes: reproduction of the purely agricultural life of the ancient Muong people (with water sources, terraced rice fields, fish ponds); community playground (con throwing, swing play, rope walking); Muong houses on a stilt architecture complex representing the living premises of the four classes in Muong society—houses for Lang (Lang mandarins), Au (Lang Mandarin’s assistants), Nooc (popular residents), and Nooc Troi (the lowest and poorest class); and a traditional herb garden with hundreds kinds of plants.
Artifacts in the museum © Museum’s documents
In the exhibition area, the exhibits comprise not only valuable ancient items but also popular things that are closely connected with daily life. The collection reflects all aspects of the object and non-object cultures of the Muong community. The exhibition room contains, in the Muong people section, traditional weaving equipment, tools used for work on hill plots, domestic appliances, and hunting tools; in the spiritual life section, reproduction of all details related to a Muong funeral ceremony, which was famous for its complexity; in the art works and library section, the paintings and ceramics made by the artist Vu Duc Hieu and others that demonstrate the daily life of the Muong people. It is also possible for visitors to undertake research on Muong culture in the museum’s library. This can help give the visitors a diversified view of Muong culture. The museum also has a specific area for thematic exhibitions, with the space arranged in different ways to demonstrate different collections or themes (e.g., agricultural cultivation, hunting tools, traditional herb collection).
The Muong museum is one of the most famous museums in Vietnam today, and is a member of the international museum network. As well as being a museum, it also functions as a resident center for international artists. Since 2011, the museum has become a center for contemporary art, among its other activities. An 18,000 m2 area is currently reserved for artistic activities, including outdoor and indoor space, with some reserved land turned into the art studio.
The museum has also hosted a number of workshops:
•2011: A month-long workshop in which over thirty Vietnamese artists participated.
•2012: A fifteen-day international workshop with over sixty artists from fifteen countries including France, the United States, India, and Thailand.
•2018: A two-month ceramics workshop with over twenty Vietnamese artists.
Art conferences are an indispensable part of the workshops at the museum. They are a space for artists to share their conception of art and ideas built up over years of experience. These events can enhance the understanding and connection between artists from different geographical origins, and create co-working opportunities in the future. The Muong Cultural Space Museum also involves the local community in its activities. Artists sometimes engage the assistance of local people and staff in their outdoor creations.
Private museums are still a relatively new concept in Vietnam. The Muong Cultural Space Museum was created through the investment of just one individual. Consequently, there could certainly be lots of issues that the management might encounter in the running of the museum. Therefore, museum management would appreciate vital assistance from local as well as international authorities, agencies, and organizations that would enable the museum to implement its objectives of restoration, preservation, and promotion of Muong culture, and introducing Vietnamese art and culture to the world.