The Vietnamese art scene is steadily growing into a vibrant and diverse network, with its main centres in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese artists are also increasingly exhibiting abroad in major international events and institutions, recognised for their poignant artistic practices and unique approach to history. Here is a selection of some of the best Vietnamese artists to watch.
Dinh Q. Lê (b. 1968) was born in Ha Tien, Vietnam, and escaped with his family by boat to the USA at an early age. He has exhibited in important institutions such as MoMA in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Whitechapel Gallery in London and dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, among others. In 2015, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo will hold his retrospective. He now lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, where he co-founded the non-profit artist-initiated contemporary art space Sàn Art in October 2007.
Lê’s work draws from his personal history and its context, rooted in Vietnam’s recent history of war. Through multimedia installations and photo-weavings, the artist explores issues of personal and collective memory, bathed in political and historical references, such as in Erasure (2011). His practice digs into the past to uncover what has been lost or forgotten, bringing back the memory of what has been denied, covered up or abandoned throughout history and with Vietnam’s rapid race towards economic development. In his recent body of work, which was on show at PPOW Gallery in New York, Lê veered away from his previous work’s exploration of personal history, focusing instead on his artistic practice and testing the boundaries of photography.
Dinh Q. Lê’s work can be found at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 708-9400
Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba (b. 1968), of mixed Vietnamese and Japanese heritage, was born in Tokyo and educated in the USA. His work has been exhibited at the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (Rome), Kunsthalle Wien, Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Gallery and in a retrospective at the Manchester Art Gallery, as well as in various biennales around the world. He lives in the USA and works between the USA and Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s multimedia works tackle issues of globalisation and internationalisation and their inherent socio-cultural changes. His past work has also included references to Vietnam, such as the underwater cyclos in his internationally acclaimed 2001 video, Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam – Towards the Complex – For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards. Filmed off the coast of Vietnam in Nha Trang, the video shows fishermen pulling cyclos under water, symbolising the weight of tradition and Vietnam’s historical past (the cyclo) in the country’s struggling race towards modernization. Elements pointing to the undeniable role of the USA in Vietnam’s historical past and economic present are also evident in his work.
Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s work can be seen at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 423 3575
Tiffany Chung (b. 1969) was born in Danang and currently lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a BFA in Photography in 1988 and an MFA in Studio Art in 2000. Her works have been part of influential exhibitions and have been shown in institutions worldwide, including the most recent Disrupted Choreographies exhibition at the Musée d’Art Contemporain Nîmes and My Voice Would Reach You at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. In 2013, she was invited to participate in the Sharjah Biennale, curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.
Chung’s practice blurs the boundaries between anthropology, sociology and art. Her work is also reminiscent to that of an archaeologist, an aspect which is particularly evident in her work, an archaeology project for future remembrance shown at Galerie Quynh. Chung’s work is deeply rooted in the research and study of urban progress and transformation in relation to history and cultural memories; it carefully examines the shifts in the geographical landscape of places and their growth and decline due to conflict, migration, deindustrialisation, natural disaster, extreme climate impact and human destruction. Chung explores what she calls the ‘psychogeographies’ of a place in order to reflect the multi-layered relationship between site, map and memory.
Tiffany Chung’s work can be found at Tyler Rollins Fine Art, 529 West 20 Street, 10W, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 229 9100 and Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, +84 8 38368019
Nguyen Man Hung (b. 1976) was born in Hanoi and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City. In recent years, Nguyen has attracted international attention and has participated in various important institutional exhibitions, such as the 2012 Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane and has been in residence in 2014 at the Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC/VAL) where he has exhibited alongside the other invited resident artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba.
Working with a range of media, including installation, painting and sculpture, Hung addresses issues that concern life in contemporary Vietnamese society as well as aspects of the national and cultural history of Vietnam. Charged with social criticism subtly conveyed through visual symbolism, his approach is strongly influenced by surrealist practice. The son of a fighter jet pilot, he has often depicted fighter jets in his work, giving them a humanised appearance such as in his sculptural installation Go to Market (2013), part of his 2013 solo exhibition One Planet at Galerie Quynh. The work shows a jet plane with grocery bags on its wings and the title is suggestive of a daily human action, softening the presence of war and violence (the jet) with a hopeful and joyful action (going to the market). Nguyen conveys commentaries on the harsh realities of a strict regime with a playfulness and humour that sets him apart from previous generations of artists.
Nguyen Manh Hung’s work can be found at Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, +84 8 38368019
Danh Vo (b. 1975) was born in Ba Ria, Vietnam and left the country at a young age to settle in Denmark. He is now based in Berlin. Vo is one of the most internationally well-known Vietnamese artists whose work has been shown in institutions worldwide, including Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the National Gallery of Denmark and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious Hugo Boss art prize, with a subsequent solo exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, and has participated in numerous biennales, representing Denmark in the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Vo creates conceptual installations that engage with issues of identity and belonging, influenced by his Vietnamese heritage. Taking old documents, photographs, other artists’ works, antique and ancient objects, Vo constructs artworks charged with historical and personal significance. The USA features heavily in his latest works, which explore the mutual involvement between the nation and Vo’s native Vietnam. For his recent We The People (2010-2012), he recast sections of the Statue of Liberty and shipped different parts to 15 different countries around the world. His solo show at Marian Goodman in New York in 2013 focused on the personal affects of US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, the ‘architect’ of the Vietnam War, opening up a dialogue between shared and private histories.
Danh Vo’s work can be seen at the Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 West 57th Street, New York, NY, USA, +1 212-977-7160
Nguyen Trinh Thi (b. 1973) is a Hanoi-based, American-educated independent filmmaker and video artist and is the founder and director of DOCLAB, an independent centre for documentary film and video art in Hanoi. Her work has been screened in institutions and festivals worldwide, including Fukuoka Asia Art Museum, ZKM Karlsruhe, the Tate Modern in London and the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, to name a few. She also participated in the Singapore Biennale 2013 and Disrupted Choreographies at the Musée d’Art Contemporain Nîmes in 2014.
Nguyen Trinh Thi’s work examines the role of an artist in contemporary Vietnamese society and explores memory in order to uncover hidden, displaced or misinterpreted histories. In her latest film, Jo Ha Kyu (2012) the artist follows the essential concept of the narrative structure in Japanese temporal arts, jo ha kyu, and explores the filmmaker’s personal and subjective experience of Tokyo in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, presenting a conflict and co-existence of concrete and abstract worlds, objective and subjective views, narrative and non-narrative, documentary and fiction. Her video installation, Unsubtitled, which she presented at the Singapore Biennale 2013 is an exploration of the role and position of the artist in contemporary Vietnamese society. Underlying themes include issues of censorship and freedom of artistic expression.
Tran Luong (b. 1960) is a pioneer of performance art in Vietnam, but he also works in other media, including painting and installation. The Hanoi-based artist came to international prominence as part of the Gang of Five and led the development of contemporary art in Vietnam in the 1980s and 1990s. Still an influential figure, he is now highly regarded for his performance art experience. His work has been exhibited worldwide and his latest performative video work, Lập Lòe (2012) is part of the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative. Tran was a senior curator at the Singapore Biennale in 2013 and was responsible for selecting some of the best young artists from Vietnam to participate in the event.
Tran Luong’s art practice explores themes of history, politics, personal and collective memory and uses symbols such as the red scarf or rice to develop his personal narrative. In Lap Loe – Welts, for example, Tran uses a red scarf, worn by primary and secondary school pupils in Vietnam, a historical and political symbol associated with Communism. The inspiration for this artwork came when one day, Tran’s son returned home from school. Memories of the artist’s own childhood when he and his friends would play by slapping each other with the red scarf paired with memories of the misery and suffering of those times are intertwined and exploited through this performance. Tran wanted to experience the pain of the small scars and wounds inflicted by the game as well as the pain that was inflicted by outside forces during that politically troubled era.
Tran Luong’s work can be found at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 423 3575
Phunam Thuc Ha (b. 1974, Ho Chi Minh City), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (b. 1976, Ho Chi Minh City) and Matt Lucero (b. 1976, California) established The Propeller Group (TPG) in 2006. With a varied background in visual art, film and video, the three artists met on common ground to create the collective with the aim of making large-scale productions. With a dual base in Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles, TPG integrates a variety of resources and idiosyncrasies into their work and engage with multi-platform and collaborative productions. TPG’s work has been part of important exhibitions worldwide, including the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative’s No Country, Disrupted Choreographies at Carré d’Art – Musée d’Art Contemporain Nîmes and various triennials around the world.
TPG explore historical, social and cultural symbols to advance criticism and examination of the state of contemporary society. An example can be seen in Monumental Bling (2013) recently shown in Nîmes, which represents the image of Lenin, the most powerful Communist leader of our times to explore the border between identity and ornamentation, the portrayal of power throughout history and the malleability of personality in the public sphere. In their 2012 solo show at Galerie Quynh, Static Friction, TPG explored the diverse culture behind motorbikes in Vietnam, at the same time reflecting on the notion of space in the city.
TPG’s work can be found at Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, +84 8 38368019 and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 423 3575
Ha Manh Thang (b. 1980) lives and works in Hanoi. He graduated from the Hanoi Fine Arts University in 2004 and has been focusing on his unique painting practice since then. His work has been part of international exhibitions including Reök Palace in Budapest (2011), ifa Galleries in Stuttgart and Berlin (2009) and the Singapore Art Museum (2008). In September 2014, he will hold a solo show at Thavibu Gallery in Bangkok. He is also the only artist from Vietnam to have been profiled in Phaidon’s Painting Today (2009) alongside Gerard Richter and Peter Doig, to name a few.
Ha takes inspiration from Vietnam’s rich historical and cultural heritage and juxtaposes ancient references and representations to contemporary popular culture and urban architecture. His satirical paintings address and examine Vietnam’s cultural and social history within the context of the Doi Moi and the changes and transformations brought about by this era. In his first solo exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City in 2013 at Galerie Quynh, entitled Heaven is a Place, Ha questioned the connections between the buildings we construct and the ideals that they embody. He explored iconic monuments such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi and reduced them to their basic skeleton or blueprint form. Their beauty is not visible anymore, only apparently recognisable in their ghostly form, but the monuments still retain their identity and therefore demonstrate how the memory of the ideals they represent are deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness.
Ha Manh Thang’s work can be found at Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, +84 8 38368019
Bui Cong Khanh (b. 1972) lives and works between Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. He graduated from the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University with a BFA in oil painting, but soon embraced a diverse practice ranging from painting to performance, installation, sculpture and ceramics. His work has been exhibited worldwide.
Bui’s works explore history and contemporary Vietnamese society and examine the impact of global capital. He incorporates figurative representations of personal references in his iconic porcelain vases, which are a bridge between ancient and contemporary culture. Using a centuries-old traditional medium, Bui decorates it with messages and representations that are immediately recognisable in their contemporary context. Charged with political commentaries and social inspections, his works are always tinged with a satirical humour. In his solo show at San Art in 2010, Life is Consumption, Bui took everyday objects such as soda cans and oil kegs and painted them with humouristic takes on contemporary life in Vietnam, with its contradictory embrace of modern life. In his latest work, Bui has incorporated images of war and conflict, such as tanks fused to beautiful ceramic plates, with flower decorations.
Bui Cong Khanh’s work can be found at San Art, 3 Mê Linh, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, +84 8 3840 0183 and 10 Chancery Lane, G/F, 10 Chancery Lane, SoHo, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2810 0065