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Artist breaks boundaries of traditional art (November 12, 2006)

Artist Nhu Huy believes Vietnamese artists should think globally, as he has with his recent collaborative project on peace. Nhu Ha chats with him about his views on art and ‘the East’.

After joining the Covered Wagon of Art programme under the Oasis project in South Korea, young artist Nhu Huy became a participant in Gwangju Biennale 2006. Now, he plays the roles of "alternative-space artist" and curator of Pace on Peace, a project for Vietnamese artists in South Korea under the regional theme of peace.

Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us something about the Pace on Peace project?

Many different people who work in the art field are participating in the project. Some are students like Le Viet Ha, Le Quy Anh Hao and Nguyen Duc Thinh. It includes poets like Ly Doi and Ly Hoang Ly, famous artists like Rich Streimatter Tran and independent artists like Ngo Dinh Truc and Tran Dan. As a curator, I work with all of them carefully to find new approaches to old topics of art.

A clear advantage of the project, which I highly appreciate, is its independence. It’s the reason why I’m taking part in it. Under the project, the artists don’t have to suffer any pressure relating to a "friendship environment" or any such things. In other words, we have complete creative freedom.

There are always limitations in a project like this. But all of us, curators and artists alike, have tried our best to help the project reach a certain point; it may not be as far as we would have hoped at first. But the project has passed the limitations common to many other projects that go under the theme of peace.

I can say with confidence that it’s possible for the public to find in the project’s resulting exhibition some unabashed but inspiring messages that can stir people’s interest and awaken their feelings.

Inner Sanctum: Can you give an example?

The piece by young artist Nguyen Duc Thinh is an illustration. His work of art poses many ideas. It was originally a photo of a sketch drawn in the wartime by Thinh’s father, a painter. The sketch features a Viet Minh guerrilla sitting and relaxing after combat, a B40 gun folded in his hands. Thinh used Photoshop to scan the image and separate the outline of drawing from the sketch, then enlarged it on another piece of paper. Finally, he sprayed paints on to the paper to create a picture from graffiti.

The message in his work is clear: it’s the complicated relationship between the past and the present, between war and peace. Moreover, by turning his father’s sketch into his own work, Thinh reveals the deep gap between generations in their different experiences of war.

Inner Sanctum: In the first five years of 21st century, what have been the advantages and disadvantages that you have discovered in the field of art?

As far as I am concerned, today Vietnamese artists can go far beyond the country’s borders. They have more opportunities to emerge not only in the domestic but also in the international context. They can contribute their voice to different "forums" in the region and around the world. In turn, these forums contribute to diversity in their art.

Inner Sanctum: What has brought about such opportunities?

There are many reasons. Firstly, many people agree that Eastern art has finally won the recognition of Western artists thanks to the theory of post-colonialism, which was firstly mentioned by Edward Said in his book, Orientalism. The book showed the oppressive and unilateral regard of the West for the East, which was illustrated by different Western books that focused on the Eastern theme. Later, many scholars shared his idea, including Franz Fannon, Homi Bhabha and overseas Vietnamese Trinh Thi Minh Ha, a visual artist, director and teacher at Berkeley University in the US. This theory has served as a very important foundation for Vietnamese artists in their practises.

It is the theory of Orientalism that helped me to understand thoroughly a concept known as "alternative space art", and I embarked on practising it. Alternative space art isn’t based on traditional Western art forms, but changes flexibly to fit with the context of each locality where it is implemented. Rather than bringing art to its traditional stage, it brings art to everyday people and places.

Inner Sanctum: Recently, there is an opinion that Vietnamese art, particularly visual art, is becoming easier and more superficial. Moreover, it has turned its focus from ideas to forms. What’s your opinion?

For me, art is imitation. It can imitate anything, but mostly it imitates life in various ways. Vietnamese society in the past years has been changing dramatically in the fields of economics, politics and culture. All such changes, reflected deeply in art, are in the same trend of becoming easier, turning from focusing on ideas to focusing on forms. The trend is exactly what renowned philosopher Jean Baudrillard predicted: patterns of emotion are the evidence of social changes. — VNS

Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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