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On the Hunt for Colorful Murals in Đà Lạt's Hilly Hẻms

Was color a casualty of COVID-19? Along with the freedom to gather, to attend live concerts and travel, did the pandemic rob us of opportunities to fully appreciate color?

During the protracted lockdown spent sealed inside an apartment’s monochrome walls, it certainly felt that way. The closest I could come to experiencing the rainbow’s full bouquet of tints was looking through photos captured during pre-pandemic jaunts across the country: soft pastels covering modernist homes on Phú Quý Island; the dizzying array of fruits and vegetables brought to market by boats in the Mekong Delta; bright pink petals bursting atop lush tangles of leaves floating on ponds near Hội An; and ethereal mist draped over neon on Sapa’s nighttime streets. But the most effective means of savoring a sliver of hues was via photographs taken in Đà Lạt.

Back in the fall of 2020, Saigoneer traveled to the mountain town for some fresh air, meatballs, mushrooms and taxidermy so piss-poor it was endearing. One afternoon, killing time by wandering the charming streets, I was shocked to turn a hillside corner and get gobsmacked in the eyes by the sight of a stunning mural on an otherwise unassuming building. As I continued my urban exploring, I came across numerous full-wall paintings depicting blooming flowers, falling leaves, fanciful childhood scenes, soothing landscapes and even a somewhat baffling portrait of Swiss-French physician Alexandre Yersin.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the pieces spread throughout downtown Đà Lạt were created by Phố Bên Đồi, an interdisciplinary and ongoing community project aimed at making the city a collective arts hub. The murals were part of the long-term “Into Art Hills” that began in 2019 and seeks to “bring arts and nature back to their living spaces,” according to the organizers.

To create the “artistic experience with the community,” artists from across the country submitted more than 200 ideas for creative ways to cover otherwise bland or deteriorating walls. They then worked with homeowners and local authorities for permission and assistance in painting the spaces. In response to the beautification efforts, residents were inspired to clean up the streets and plant more flowers and trees.

While the murals are worth a trip alone, not to mention the other exciting events and projects Phố Bên Đồi is working on, viewing them seems to have an unexpected spill-over effect. After stopping to admire the way they transformed drab, utilitarian structures into cheerful works of art, color seemed to shimmer everywhere we looked. From glittering spoons in a metal basin to weeds and moss sprouting in a derelict lot, the entire city seemed to teem with tones.

The way a warm hand struggles to adjust when plunged into ice water, after months surrounded by a singular palette, the sight of a single street may be overwhelming. But with time, one not only grows accustomed, but longs for it. Have a view of the sights we hunger for below:

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