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This Ghost Month, an Other-Worldly Exhibition Not for the Faint-Hearted

The topic can be summed up in one word — “ghosts” — but it was enough inspiration for illustrators to create a plethora of artworks as part of the project spearheaded by Khô Mực Studio.

Read this article in Vietnamese on Urbanist Vietnam here.

Simon Phan, an illustrator and co-founder of Khô Mực Studio, started taking an interest in the immense creative potential of ghosts and ghouls when he came across some drawings by a friend on Instagram. At the same time, Simon recognized the sterling skills of Vietnam’s young designers and illustrators, but also noticed that their creative output tends to involve adorable and endearing subjects like street charms, traditional dishes, familiar beverages, etc.

“With a theme that can appear seemingly off-putting or unattractive like ‘ghosts,’ the team behind Khô Mực was very curious to see how our artists will respond in their work,” Simon shared. And so the competition to draw horror subjects was born in July, amassing more than 110 entries from young illustrators across Vietnam. The event didn’t stop there: Khô Mực made full use of their resources as a risograph printing studio to design, edit and publish a whole zine titled to present 44 standout works, curated from the submissions.

A total of 44 artworks surrounding the horror theme are printed on matte joss paper.

The works submitted by young designers presented the organizers with one surprise after another, from ghostly figures inspired by Vietnamese folk tales to fictional phantoms designed by the deep fears inside the mind of the illustrators. “They featured some ghosts that I’ve never heard of before, and only after I researched them on the internet did I stumble across many fascinating, mystical legends behind them,” Simon said with delight.

Inside the studio’s office-cum-printing-shop in District 3, a group of Simon’s collaborators sit, intently folding 200 booklets of the special zine to be released alongside the exhibition. Sheets of brightly colored paper in shades of red, orange, yellow and blue are scattered on the table; at a glance, any passerby might not immediately realize that these are for a horror exhibition. Each color is used for a small subsection of the zine, like “Kính Lão Đắc Thọ” (for drawings of well-known specters in Vietnam), “Hồng Nhan Bạc Phận” (female ghosts), and “Nhỏ Mà Có Võ (modern ghouls or those freshly created by the artists).

Each hue represents a subsection of the zine.

The most unique characteristic of is the use of matte joss paper to print the zines and how they are stapled to emulate the feeling of holding an actual stack of votive papers in real life. “Khô Mực has discussed and deliberated a lot on this decision; we went to shops in District 5 and 10 to research the material, patterns and motifs usually seen on joss creations,” Simon said. “The vendors asked why we bought so much paper. After we shared that the materials would be used to print books, it was a surprise that they didn’t question further, but even helped explain the attributes, categories and how to fold the sheets into paper figures like a lotus.”

Still, perhaps to fully relish the completeness of this marriage between horror content, the artworks, and ink choice, there’s no better medium than the Đi Đêm Có Ngày Gặp Ma (Your Luck Will Run Out) dark-room exhibition organized by Khô Mực. Taking place during the seventh lunar month (September 10–20), not only does the show put on display 44 of the best works from the project, but it also presents a prime opportunity to introduce risograph printing techniques to a Vietnamese audience.

“The exhibition space is a dark room, and you will need a flashlight to view the artworks,” he explained. “This is a quality unique to risography — being able to use a special kind of fluorescent ink to produce the desired effect.” The synergy between the ghostly subject matter and the content execution is a point of pride for the team behind Khô Mực Studio in putting together this exhibition.

The accompanying zine featuring 44 artworks printed on joss paper.

Most importantly, through , the studio wishes to nurture the young creative community in Vietnam via collaborations, idea exchanges and mutual support: “These days, the majority of [young creatives] tend to just share their design and artworks online to be seen via phones or computers; rarely do they think about the possibility to turn them into a concrete prototype in real life.”

The free workshops organized by Khô Mực for the participants in the project are a prized opportunity for them to discover the in-depth process of risograph printing, to print out their work, and to hold that unique piece of art in their hands. “It’s a special kind of feeling,” Simon added. “We hope that many young Vietnamese will recognize the beauty behind paper and ink — traditional materials — and through that, will realize the commercial potential behind applying their artworks on daily objects that are enjoyed and appreciated by the public. After this, our printing shop will also welcome past participants back to use our printer, of course, with some good discounts.”

The Đi Đêm Có Ngày Gặp Ma dark-room exhibition takes place from September 10 to 20, more details are available here.