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ART SCENES | EXHIBITIONS | VN CULTURE | ART ASSOCIATIONS | ETHNIC MINORITIES

VietNam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit


Coming March 15, 2003
VietNam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit
At the American Museum of Natural History



Landmark Exhibition Opens in New York City on March 15, 2003 and in Hanoi in 2005


The American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi, announced today a landmark exhibition, Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit. This historic exhibition, the first comprehensive exhibition on Vietnamese life to be presented in the United States, examines Vietnamese culture in the early 21st century only a decade after the country began opening to the global market.

Dr. Nguyen Van Huy, Director, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, and Dr. Laurel Kendall, Curator of Asian Ethnographic Collections at the American Museum of Natural History, are jointly curating the exhibition.

“This is the first ethnographic exhibition about Vietnam to be organized in the United States of America,” said Dr. Huy. “Through it, we hope that the American people, as well as visitors to the exhibition from around the world, will develop a more comprehensive understanding of the life and culture of contemporary Vietnam. From an ethnographic perspective, the exhibition will present the daily life of Vietnamese people in the north, the center, and the south of the country; in cities as well as the countryside; in the delta as well as the mountains and highlands. It will show that Vietnam is a diversified culture of more than 50 ethnic groups, all of which are respected and nurtured.”

“Today, more than ever, the importance of understanding and appreciating the beauty and variety of the cultures that exist on our tiny planet is the predicate to the peaceful co-existence we all so fervently seek. It is our hope that this exhibition will foster respect and admiration for the breadth and meaning of human experience around the world. The collaboration between our Museum and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology has made this a unique and especially gratifying undertaking for both institutions.” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History.

The exhibition, primarily drawn from the collections of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, will reflect Vietnam’s multi-ethnic population. Most of the items—nearly 300 will be exhibited—are produced and commonly used in Vietnam today. They include handmade textiles, ceramics, wooden sculptures, lacquer festival paraphernalia, and a variety of lanterns, toys, and votive objects imaginatively fashioned out of paper and bamboo. Some of these items reflect changing times—votive motorbikes and VCRs, for instance, join traditional money and clothing items in being ceremonially burned, so that spirits of the dead can use these objects. Ethnic textiles are reconfigured into products for the tourist trade. New markets and goods have affected various domains of contemporary social life across a broad spectrum of Vietnamese experience, from handicraft production to dealings with the spirit world. Therefore, in the exhibition, culture is presented as a dynamic process that responds to changes and incorporates new material.

Vietnamese culture has absorbed and responded powerfully to the war that is the shared history of both Vietnam and the United States. The war appears in the exhibition as impinging upon everyday life in Vietnam—in portrayals of death rituals and the problem of retrieving war dead who would otherwise suffer as “wandering ghosts.” Such cultural examination of the impact of the war has never before been undertaken collaboratively by organizations in Vietnam and the United States.

The American Museum of Natural History’s collegial relationship with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology began in 1990 when Dr. Nguyen Van Huy visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In 1991, Dr. Kendall went to Hanoi to meet with the future staff of the then still-to-be-built Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which opened in 1997. Since then, American Museum of Natural History staff members have held training workshops in Hanoi on textile and object conservation, ethnographic field methods, collection cataloging and curation, exhibition design and photography, and communications.

The American Museum of Natural History and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology have worked even more closely together for the past two years to produce Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit. This endeavor has helped build a strong, educational relationship, where each institution has benefited from the experience and expertise of the other. The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and its staff has provided many objects in the exhibition and the scholarly expertise to interpret them. The American Museum of Natural History has lent its skills in conservation and curatorial expertise and years of experience of developing permanent and temporary exhibitions. The partnership also includes an internship program, in which Vietnam Museum of Ethnology staff work in residence at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, further strengthening ties between the two institutions.

The exhibition, jointly funded by the U.S., VietNam and other sponsors is estimated to cost nearly two million dollars. After a nine month showing in New York City, it will travel to other cities in the U.S. and then open in HaNoi in 2005.

     

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