Featuring 7 different artists currently or previously based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, this exhibition aims to refute the all-too-common misconception that Vietnamese art consists solely of paintings depicting hackneyed cultural tropes. On the contrary, Vietnam has grown increasingly cosmopolitan in recent years, with contemporary aesthetics evolving in tandem. Thus, not only are Vietnamese artists themselves engaged in a process of self-education and unlearning, but so must international observers unlearn preconceived notions about the art being made in Vietnam today.
Certain works engage with Vietnamese cultural context. For instance, a sculpture by Cam Xanh consists of silkworm cocoons inscribed with the text of the 10th century poem Nam quốc sơn hà, a declaration of independence from the Song Dynasty invaders, which speaks here to the artist’s struggle for creative sovereignty. The black paintings of Bao Vuong depict moonlight glistening on waves, referencing the artist’s experience as a child refugee, as he and his parents fled Vietnam by boat when he was only one year old. Then there is the video documentation of a performance by Quynh Lam, in which the artist wrote “I am not a spy” all over the walls and floors of a gallery, processing a traumatic experience when a Vietnamese-American man accused her of being a spy and locked her inside his house for a night.
The aforementioned works are not so much about Vietnam as they are incidentally informed by the artists’ historical circumstances. The other works are even less explicitly related to Vietnam. An installation of ceramic fingers by Le Hoang Bich Phuong alludes to the human condition as a whole, and the tension between the individual and the collective in particular. The drawings of Tuyen Nguyen stand squarely within a modernist tradition, paying homage to Picasso and Bacon while dealing with the universally relatable angst caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Then there is an installation by Nghia Dang, made principally from his father’s cast-off clothing, speaking to the perennial push and pull between father and son. And finally, there is a digital video by new media artist Cao Hoang Long, consisting of an abstract glitch landscape of sorts — a deterritorialized space that is both everywhere and nowhere at once. Evidence on the whole that Vietnamese contemporary art is not fundamentally different from that of any other national context.