Saola’s journey to become the mascot of SEA Games 31

The saola design by artist Ngo Xuan Khoi has surpassed nearly 600 works, edited many times, to become the 31st SEA Games mascot.

At the end of 2019, the General Department of Physical Education and Sports (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) launched a contest to design mascots and logos for SEA Games 31. Knowing this information, despite being over 50 years old, painter Ngo Xuan Khoi is very excited. “I entered the contest with no hope of winning, because this is a playground for young artists with strengths in technology and modern graphics, and I’m middle-aged. But I think I’m a painter, Vietnamese citizens, should have the responsibility to take the exam,” he recalled.

Thinking for many days, he still could not find a satisfactory animal to design. One difficult night to sleep, he suddenly remembered that in 1992, he had read information about an animal discovered for the first time in the world in Vu Quang National Park, Ha Tinh province, named saola. 30 years ago, this was one of the most important animal discoveries of the 20th century, of historical significance to science because during the previous 100 years, only 5 new species of large mammals were discovered.

So Mr. Khoi got up, looked up information and pictures about saola. Back then, saola names and images were not as popular as they are today. After watching, he secretly exclaimed “found it”. “I was strongly impressed by the name and image of saola. This is a special animal that needs to be widely spread to the community,” he said.

Painter Ngo Xuan Khoi with the saola design - the 31st SEA Games mascot. Photo: Character provided

Painter Ngo Xuan Khoi with the saola design – the mascot of SEA Games 31. Photo: Characters provided

That very night he sketched saola. But from having an idea to completing a drawing, the artist has to face many difficulties because he has not seen saola but only consulted information on the internet. The organizers stated the general criterion that the SEA Games mascot has a Vietnamese identity for the artists to think for themselves. The mascot must be personified, which is convenient for the production of stuffed animals as gifts and displays.

How to make Saola have its own identity, unlike the Disney animation or Russian, Japanese, and Korean drawing? How can the mascot representing Vietnam not be mixed by other cultures? After thinking about it for a long time, I finally chose to draw saola which is simple and close, like the character in water puppetry art, the costume is somewhat like a farmer, but there are features of traditional Vietnamese martial art. Doctor Ngo Xuan Khoi shared.

After two weeks, he finished the work and prepared to submit it to the competition. However, because he was afraid that not many people knew about saola, in the voiceover he sent, he clearly stated “this is not a goat, not a deer, a deer, but a saola – an animal that only lives in the mountains and forests. remote areas of Central Truong Son Vietnam and Southern Laos”.

Along with the saola of artist Ngo Xuan Khoi, nearly 600 works of many artists across the country were sent to the Organizing Committee, applying for the SEA Games mascot.

Recalling the process of selecting the 31st SEA Games mascot, the President of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association, a member of the jury, shared: “At first sight, I gave the saola of painter Ngo Xuan Khoi. The product is very eye-catching, good-looking”.

According to Mr. Doan, at the 22nd SEA Games in 2003, the buffalo was chosen as the mascot because of its closeness and friendliness to the majority of Vietnamese people. Therefore, at the 31st SEA Games, the jury wanted to choose a highly symbolic, friendly and beautiful animal. Saola fully meets this criterion. “Although it is a strange and rare animal, it does not appear often, few people see it, but just hearing the name saola makes me feel cute and curious,” Doan shared.

Documentary pictures of two saola are kept by officials of Vu Quang National Park, Ha Tinh.  Photo: taken by Duc Hung

Documentary pictures of two saola are kept by officials of Vu Quang National Park, Ha Tinh. Image: Duc Hung took a photo

Besides saola, many paintings of animals familiar to Vietnamese people were sent, such as tigers, dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs. Each animal has many painters to paint. Even saola has been shown by many artists. “However, these animals have not made a special impression on the jury. Saola by Ngo Xuan Khoi exudes a lovely, agile, dynamic look,” said painter Le Huy Tiep, a member of the Council. examiner, recall.

After passing the preliminary round, 5 works were selected for the final round and continued to be edited. Next, saola and two other works, Nghe Laugh and Tiger, were discussed many times about meaning and aesthetics. There is an opinion that the tiger should be chosen, because of its simple shape, a symbol of chivalry, suitable for sports events. Someone suggested choosing Nghe because it is imbued with Vietnamese culture from the past.

In the end, the members of the Jury unanimously voted Sao la the first prize, choosing to be the mascot of the 31st SEA Games. “Saola is a new image that attracts everyone’s attention right from the name. Many people will wonder what this animal is? The more we learn about this animal, the more interesting it becomes. The mascot has bold national colors, from costumes, colors, and gestures”, painter Le Huy Rece determined.

Sao la stuffed animal.  Photo:

Sao la stuffed animal. Image:

Ms. Le Hoang Yen, Deputy General Director of Physical Education and Sports, was very impressed with the straight, elongated sao la horns, forming the shape of a V – the symbol of victory and representing the Vietnamese word. “In addition to its pure and mysterious beauty, saola is also a symbol of the spirit of victory and represents the nation,” Yen said.

When he heard that his work was chosen as the mascot of the 31st SEA Games, painter Le Xuan Khoi said he was very emotional. Saola, from a mysterious, solitary, lonely animal on the Truong Son mountain range, will be featured in the largest sporting event in Southeast Asia, to thousands of domestic and foreign athletes and fans.

After being selected, the artist continued to edit the work many times, following the opinion of the jury. Sometimes, saola is designed to be a bit low and fat. There are also suggestions on how to make the mascot funny and playful like the character Pikachu or the robot cat Doraemon. Finally, the saola image is designed to be tall, elegant, and more human-like.

Along with the saola mascot, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism decided to choose the logo (symbol model) for the 31st SEA Games which is a V-shaped hand, represented in the form of a bird of peace flying up – a symbol of the human spirit. kindness, humanity, nobility. The image of the letter V also symbolizes the country of Vietnam, which is the first letter of the word Victory.

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