My eldest sister – Part 2: Eldest sister

Opening: 16.12.2010 @6pm
Exhibition on view until 01.01.2011
Location: Sàn Art
3 Me Linh
District Binh Thanh
Ho Chi Minh City



‘Chi Toi’, is a project composed of two exhibitions, in two stages, by 20 local young graduates of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University.

For this project, San Art has asked artists to artistically respond to the popular lyrics of a 1980s song called ‘Chi Toi’ (My Sister), by Trần Tiến.

The lyrics of this song speak of a young man’s eldest sister and her dedication to her family. It speaks of a particular kind of love, of sacrifice and familial duty. It also reflects a customary attitude of the different roles and responsibilities between men and women in contemporary Vietnam. Women who are the eldest of a large family in Vietnam are often the surrogate mothers for their siblings. This can lead to the eldest sister never marrying and having a family of her own. This song can be heard on radio and can be found in the numerous karaoke bars across Vietnam today.

In the first exhibition, 10 gentlemen were asked to imagine they are the brother in this story; while this second exhibition asks 10 young ladies to imagine they are the eldest sister. The resulting artworks will present a unique insight into the social landscape of Vietnam’s youth. Works could encompass the technique of painting, drawing, printing, sculpture, installation or sound and much more.

San Art also wishes to thank the Cultural Development and Exchange Fund (CDEF) and Amarula for their support of this exhibition project.

Exhibition One: Opened Thursday November 25 with Nguyen Xuan Nguyen, Mai Thanh Nam, Le Dinh Chung, Le Nhat Thanh, Nguyen Thanh Lan, Hoang Cong Minh, Pham Tran Viet Nam, Le Nguyen Chinh, Do Thanh Lang and Truong Cong Tung.

Exhibition Two: Opening Thursday December 16 with Ngo Dinh Bao Chau, Le Hoang Bich Phuong, Do Thi Hong Tham, Le Thi Thuyet Nhung, Le Hoai Nam, Nguyen Xuan Ky Thu, Nguyen Thi Thuy, Vo Thi Tran Chau, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, Dao Nguyen Thach Thao


In the summer of 2007, the summer that I moved to Vietnam, my Aunt Le passed away of bone cancer. During the funeral service, my father told everyone a story of how Aunt Le pleaded to my grandmother not to send him to the army since he was so little at the time. He was 14.

When I was growing up, my father would send me to Aunt Le’s because he had to work during the day. She taught me to how to sew and knit. One time, I overheard her talking to her friends. She told them that was married once, and that her son is doing business in Korea.

Aunt Le was never married, and she was the eldest sister in my father’s family of 9 children.

Aunt Le’s story is very reflective of the Vietnamese song, Chi Toi (My Sister). This song speaks of the role of the eldest sister in many old Vietnamese families. The eldest sister often finds it hard to find a husband not because of her lack of personality or attractiveness, but because of her familial duties. Many of these families simply had too many people to take care of and the eldest sister became the second mother.

The first time I heard this song was during Karaoke singing. Everyone wanted to sing it, and those would couldn’t grab the mic whispered to me, “This is a really really good song.” To many, it is a good song because it illustrates a very sensitive subject in a form of music, that so melodic one could hardly call it sad. The notes go up and down, and up and down. It talks about how beautiful your home is, as the drums are keeping the beat of country-style simplicity. As we listened or sang to this song, we can’t help but love the (our) sister for everything that she has done for us.


Included in the package is a CD of this song sung by Quang Linh. Listen to it. Now imagine, you are this sister’s brother. Make an artwork that expresses those feelings that you have.


Included in the package is a CD of this song sung by Quang Linh. Listen to it. Now imagine, you are the eldest sister. Make an artwork that expresses those feelings that you have.

Below are the lyrics to song, use it to your benefit:

My Older Sister

My house is on the side of the river with the small, curved bridge
The row of areca trees move in and out of the sunshine
My older sister looks cute selling vegetables at the Dong bridge market oh!
My older sister has no husband.

The wasp-waisted maiden, how people prayed for her
Mother raised her daughter to seek a husband
My older sister loves her two younger siblings and mother, sick and old oh
My older sister has no husband.

Then mother awakes, we are no longer innocent
My sister worries about husbands for the young ones
The day her younger sister leaves her at the river’s edge she looks so sad oh
My older sister has no husband.

Then one bright night a man stopped by
They had come to build a bridge spanning the river oh
Met my lovely sister, soon proposed
She also wanted to find a husband.

Long after the bridge was finished, no one came to escort the bride
My sister waited expectantly, eyes glazed over
The row of fruitless areca trees with sad fallen leaves
My older sister has no husband.

Many years after I returned to visit home
Saw the betel nuts shriveled and the leaves withered
My sister’s charming little grave on the side of the bridge, provoking fond sorrow
Oh my sister, how you still have no husband.

My older sister has no husband…