Nem is the nickname of Dinh Chi Ha, an 11-year-old independent artist from Hanoi, Vietnam. Being an inspiring artist at such a young age is an achievement for Nem. Yet, what is even more inspiring about him is that he has overcome his special conditions to create beautiful art. His difficulties in early life has not stop him from bringing joy to everyone through his uplifting and vibrant artwork. Nem had two major exhibitions and regularly showcases his works on the Facebook fan page, Nem Gallery.
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Nem and his work | © Nem Gallery
In 2005, Nem was born to a well-educated family in Hanoi. His mother, Phuong Nguyen, was an architect and full-time university lecture, and his father is also an architect. At the age of two, Nem was diagnosed with autism and later was told to have Turner Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Nem also has sensory processing disorder, which is common with autism. As a result, Nem has had difficulties in communicating, bodily movement, and self-control.
Nem’s painting | © Nem Gallery
Fortunately, Nem’s family found out that Nem had a talent for painting at an early age and supported him in every way they could. Since then, art has been Nem’s creative way of sharing his everyday thoughts. Even though Nem cannot articulate his feelings in words, he cleverly expresses them on papers using various mediums such as marking pens, chalks, and poster color.
In addition to art, Nem is an eager piano player and singer. He also enjoys sharing videos of himself playing music, singing, and painting with fast motion on social media. His Facebook fan page called Nem Gallery has more than 3,400 likes. Nem’s story has been featured on many Vietnamese TV channels and online newspapers.
Nem’s artworks and exhibitions
Nem’s paintings | © Nem Gallery
Through the eyes of Nem, Hanoi becomes a playful, almost magical city, which is full of life, energy, and mysterious creatures. Depicting landscapes and still life, his acrylic paintings are particularly bright, uplifting, and visually striking. Nem uses yellow and blue dominantly in these paintings, with a preference for thick brushstrokes and flat perspectives. The compositions tend to be tight, with few empty spaces as if each canvas is too small for Nem’s imagination.
Nem’s sketches | © Nem Gallery
Despite his young age, Nem loves experimenting different styles, subjects, and materials. Nem likes using black ink pens to tell stories and put images in the form of a storyboard. Numbers and words are also depicted frequently. Apart from landscapes and still life, Nem paints figures in primitive forms, usually with peculiar features as if the figures are from a different world or characters from fiction novels. Yet, these portraits are inspired by real-life people such as his family. This suggests that although Nem is autistic, he wholeheartedly and creatively connects with this world.
Nem’s paintings | © Nem Gallery
In 2014, Nem had a major exhibition titled ‘Tieu The Gioi – Cau Chuyen cua Nem’ (A Little Word – The Story of Nem). Showcasing Nem’s most representative works, the main theme of the show was Tieu The Gioi (A Little World). The exhibition delivered the message that ‘each child has her/his own unique perspective of the world’. Apart from that, Nem participated in two group exhibitions organized for autistic children yearly in Hanoi.
In addition to being the first autistic child to have his own exhibition, Nem is an official artist of To He, a lifestyle brand based in Hanoi. His artworks have been reproduced in fashion products such as tote bags. These products aim to raise awareness on disability and promote the productivity of disadvantaged children in Vietnam.
Nem’s exhibition | © Nem Gallery
The impact of art and family on artistic children
Nem’s paintings | © Nem Gallery
A long-term research has suggested that parenting skills can improve severe cases of autism. Indeed, Nem’s family plays a key role in the positive development of Nem’s artistic practice. His family encourages Nem to pursue his passion for art as they promote his paintings on the Facebook page Nem Gallery. At first, his father helped Nem paint the basic lines but later let him to freely create. His mother, Phuong Nguyen, has done extensive research and consulted many international experts on how to improve Nem’s conditions. Art therapy is found to be one of the most effective methods. Hoping to inform and support parents of autistic children, Phuong Nguyen has documented Nem’s everyday life struggles as well as his achievements on her blog.
Nem and his family | © Nem Gallery
Another example of the benefit of art and parental love to autistic children is the case of Iris Grace, a 7-year-old British artist. Similar to Nem, her art depicts joy and nature, and she is fully supported by her family to use art as a way of comforting herself. Her mother documents her everyday life on her blog and confirms that Iris becomes more active since she started painting.
Not only does the art of Nem embody the power of optimism and family love but his compelling story also raises awareness on autism in Vietnam. Sadly, in Vietnam, this disorder has not been given significant professional treatment. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see that art therapy can help autistic children in many places in the world including Vietnam and the UK.
Nem’s painting | © Nem Gallery
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