The process of unlearning entails breaking down the origins of old biases and undoing the effect of certain knowledge or habits. Rather than forgetting, it is about choosing an alternative paradigm. In this spirit, Richard Koh Fine Art’s (RKFA) latest exhibition ‘Unlearning’ aims to challenge misconceptions about Vietnamese art by providing a glimpse into its diverse contemporary expressions. In his essay, curator David Willis asserts that just artists are “engaged in a constant process of self-education and unlearning with regards to what art can be or do, so must international observers unlearn preconceived notions about the art being made in Vietnam today.” The seven artists featured are either currently or formerly based in Saigon.
While one might associate Vietnam with its rich tradition of silk painting, Cam Xanh’s sculptural piece ‘Declaration of Independence of Vietnam’ engages with the material symbolically in its raw form of silkworm cocoons. The cocoons are marked with words from ‘Nam quốc sơn hà’ (Mountains and Rivers of the Southern Country), the tenth-century poem popularly considered Vietnam’s first declaration of independence. By breaking down the text into its component words and writing them in Chinese and Vietnamese, the artist looks past the poem’s origins as a rallying cry against Song invaders to also examine how such speeches are used to incite war in the name of liberation, like how the silkworm is sacrificed for its silk.