Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Exhibition highlights “Vietnamerican” art

Without ever showing a scene of combat, the art in Randolph College’s 102nd Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art tells the story of the Vietnam War and its legacy.

Binh Danh devised a way to print photos onto leaves. Several
pieces are in Contemporary Vietnamerican Art at the Maier.
The exhibition, titled Contemporary Vietnamerican Art, features the works of five artists who were born in Vietnam but now live and work in the United States. “All of the artists were affected by the Vietnam War, but they’re not singularly defined by it,” said Martha Johnson, director of the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College.

Each work has some connection to the artists’ Vietnamese heritage and childhood. Most also hearken to the war that ravaged the country 40 years ago, forcing some of the artists’ families to flee their home country.

The works include photographs displayed on leaves using a technique photographer Binh Danh developed, as well as more traditional photographs showing modern schoolchildren in Vietnam by Pipo Nguyen-duy.

Several black and white photographs by An-My Lê  capture scenes from Vietname War reenactments held in Central Virginia. Lien Truong’s surrealist paintings portray bomb craters that are transforming into pools from which new life springs.

Thomas Thuấn Ðặng Vũ’s abstract works are full of symbols—gas masks, loudspeakers that were used to spread communist propaganda, toys from his childhood, fresh fruit he once presented on an altar to his ancestors. “More than any of the other artists, he talks about his work as really digging through the images and feelings of his childhood as a cathartic process,” Johnson said.

The idea for this show grew from the 2012 exhibition, Bridges Not Walls, which focused on the art of several artists who have immigrated to America from several other countries. This year, Johnson wanted to narrow the focus to artists from one country. Because Randolph has more international students from Vietnam than from any other foreign country, it became the subject. Johnson discovered the term “Vietnamerica” in the title of a book a Vietnamese author wrote about his family.

The exhibition will open Thursday, Sept. 5, with a panel discussion at 6 p.m. The panel discussion will include two students from Vietnam, a student whose research has focused on Vietnam, and a local participant in Vietnam War reenactments. The exhibition will be on view until December 9.

“I hope people will enjoy the imagery at face value: we have work that is humorous as well as work that is contemplative,” Johnson said. “I also hope they can consider things about identity, consider assumptions about identity and the concept of bridging our cultural differences.”