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Dear subscribers,

The new diaCRITICS site will go live in a few days at this URL (diacritics.org). We will do our best to transfer all email subscribers to the new site. Subscribers who have joined through RSS, however, cannot be transferred. We are also hoping that those who subscribe through Networked Blogs will be transferred.

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The Editors

Hang on…diaCRITICS 2.0 is coming!


We’re going on hiatus for a week or two as we get our brand-new design ready. Hopefully it will go smoothly and you’ll get a notice (if you’re a subscriber) when the new site is up…if not, check back soon and resubscribe!

Bearing the Weight of History – the Story of a Young Chăm Woman in America


At diaCRITICS, we center a cross-ethnic and transnational approach, as fifty-four ethnicities live within present-day Vietnam and as the Vietnamese diaspora has resettled on five continents. Yet the ethnic minorities of Vietnam, and their communities abroad, are often forgotten. By featuring those in the Vietnamese diaspora whose identities and histories are less well known, we highlight the importance of de-centering Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese) assumptions about what is “Vietnamese.” Here’s an in-depth, courageous, and self-reflexive discussion about Chăm culture and history, centering a Vietnamese Muslim Chăm woman. This was originally published by the Cultural Quest Foundation and reprinted with permission.

[before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? win an iPod and other prizes!]

“I am a Chăm” 

We met a young woman in San Jose, California, who wore a scarf over her head, which identified her as a person of Islamic faith. But she spoke perfect Vietnamese. A Vietnamese Muslim – Wow – what a rare site! We asked her more questions and were curious about her background. “I am a Chăm,” she said, looking keenly at us for our response. She wasn’t sure if we knew what a Chăm is. 

Viet’s Twin Civilization

Probably all Vietnamese with basic formal education in Vietnam would know about “người Chăm,” the native people of Central Vietnam. The Chăm people were said to have a glorious culture built on Hindu and Islamic faiths. Tháp Chăm (Chăm temple ruins) are famous historical relics, the largest of which at Mỹ Sơn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chăms were brave sea-faring people. They traded with cultures all over Southeast Asia. Their language belongs to the great language family of Malayo-Polynesian, whose origin stretched from East-African Madagascar to the Pacific Islands.

In terms of cultural development, the Việts and the Chăms started out on a parallel course that mirrored each other like hands of the same person. Coming out of the stone age, the Chăms developed a sophisticated iron-based technology, called the Sa Huỳnh culture, while the Việts in north cultivated the bronze-based Đồng Sơn culture. The Chăms were a sea-faring people while the Việts, coming from the Austro-Asiatic language family (cousin to Khmer language), thrived on agriculture. The Việts imported Han-Chinese intellectualism for their societal development, while the Chăm society was built on Hindu intellectualism. The Việt’s family was patriarchal and male-centered, favored by labor-intensive agriculture, while the Chăm’s family—with the women being the community’s pillars and the men spending long months at sea—was matrilineal and women-centered.

Even the Việt’s myth of creation holds vague references to the Chăms as well. The myth talked about the angel Princess marrying a dragon Prince to create the first one hundred children who became the peoples of Southeast Asia. The angel princess, whose name was Âu Cơ, was the descendant of Thần Nông (the God of Agriculture) who supposedly lived somewhere in the Yangtze River region. The Dragon Prince, whose name was Lạc Long Quân, came from the sea. After the children were born, the couple split up, with half going with their mother back to the inland region and other half followed their father to live by the sea. The myth said that modern Việts came from the stock that went with mother Âu Cơ. That explained the Việt proclivity toward agriculture. But what modern people came from the group that lived with father Lạc Long Quân? Who else but the sea-faring Chăms, of course!

Brothers no more

Hardly anyone outside of Southeast Asia knows about the Chăms today, because the Việts had wiped their nation, Champa (“Chiêm Thành” in Vietnamese) off the world’s map since the fourteenth century. There is a deep conflict within the Vietnamese cultural consciousness about what they had done to the Chăms. On one hand, they railed against the Chinese for trying to take over their homeland, originally in the Red River delta in today North Vietnam. On other hand, they did the very same thing to the Chăm by taking away the Chăm way of life and country.

This conflict is especially strong among the South Vietnamese who lost their country to North Vietnam in 1975. The Vietnamese refugees often say among themselves that the brutal Vietnam War and the subsequent loss of South Vietnam is a karmic retribution for their ancestor’s unjust actions. It was also ironic that the Việts’ new home, America, the land of dream and opportunity, was also built upon a bloody legacy at the expense of the native peoples. Human civilization seems to be full of savagery, and the Việts contributed their own dark chapter in their relations with the Chăms. 

“Don’t call me Chàm”

Our first meeting with Vân Anh did not get off so great. Off the bat, Vân-Anh, she politely stopped us from calling her “Chàm,” a sound with a falling tone. “We are Chăm” she said. “Chàm is derogatory to us.” Chăm sounds a bit like ‘chum.’ For those thinking that fussing over a tiny diacritical mark is bordering on insanity, we want to remind them that in the tonal Vietnamese language tone is everything. “Má” (rising tone) means mother, but “Ma” (flat tone) means a ghost. “Tướng Không Quân” means an Air Force general, but “Tướng Không Quần” means a general without pants. Getting the wrong tone can get you into a lot of trouble.

That was how we got into trouble with Vân-Anh for calling her a “Chàm”. Honesty, we never heard of the word “Chăm” before. All historical texts we learned used the word “Chàm.” We were a bit irked by Vân-Anh’s demand for different term. We never meant any disrespect and didn’t like someone telling us to stop using a historically honored word. But when we checked the internet on the proper term to call the Chăm people, sure enough, “Chăm” was indeed the term that Chăm people call themselves. The early score: Vân-Anh 1, CQF 0.

Opening a big can of worms

The discovery of a thriving Chăm community on the internet pleased us. We were taught that the Chăm culture had been totally destroyed. So we organized a talk on January 9th, 2011, for Vân-Anh to tell us more about her family and culture. We didn’t have a great turn out, as many of our Việt friends admittedly were uncomfortable with the cross-cultural discussion that we attempted. “You are opening a very big can of worms,” professor Trương Bổn Tài, a supporter of Chăm culture, reminded the group.

Honestly, most Việts don’t want to talk about this issue. “Why stir up the past?” one friend said. But Vân Anh reminded us that the legacy of maltreatment of the Chăms is not of the past but the present. Even today, some Vietnamese still refer to the Chăms as “mọi” (savages), cow and pig worshipers, and cast them as an inferior race.

Other Việt friends are uncomfortable with the idea of speaking ill of our own forbearers. In the Confucian tradition, doing such thing amounts to being ungrateful if not a sin. But the fact of the matter is Vân-Anh is a Việt, Chăm culture is a part of Việts’ greater cultural landscape, and most if not all South Vietnamese have some trace of Chăm ancestry in their blood due to generations of intermarriages. So it is only right and necessary to hear what Vân-Anh has to say and what her Chăm community has experienced. Furthermore, as children of the same Mother Earth, we all have the power and the responsibility to ease any the historical burden and make it better for the future generations, just by understanding. So with this intent, talking about the difficult past legacy may turn out to be of much greater service for our ancestors than looking the other way.

Another worry we had was that the heavy historical topic would result in more bad feelings. Good intentions often beget disasters. Even Vân-Anh was nervous and she insisted on a low-key invitation-only crowd. Academic discussions on Chăm-Việt relations in the past have been known to end up in fiery debates or cold resentments. At the outset, we looked naive for doing this program. If scholars could not enlighten Chăm-Việt relation, how could a group of rag-tag non-experts like us do any good to a far-gone tragedy?

But we weren’t interested in scholarly truth. We were interested in Vân Anh’s personal truth. A part of our motivation to form Cultural Quest Foundation comes from the belief that every person holds an important truth about his or her own culture and history, worthy to be told and shared. The most valuable source of history is the eyewitnesses, not the books. We become truly ignorant of our history when we don’t listen to our elders and neighbors, not when we don’t get enough history units. So when Vân-Anh accepted our invite to tell her story, we were delighted to give her the center stage and used scholarly information only as backdrops. That was exactly what we did and we weren’t disappointed. At the end of the program, all attendees felt satisfied, hopeful and appreciative of her sharing.

14th century map of Đại Việt (Vietnam) and Champa

Strategic Cultural Misunderstanding

The golden age of Champa took place in the early centuries of the modern era along side with the rise of other great Hinduist worshiping centers such as Angkor in Cambodia and Bali in Indonesia. The Chăm temples were adorn with curvaceous Apsara dancers conjuring a time of elegance, grace and transcendence. Important Chăm cities and towns were named after Hindu Gods, such as Indrapura (Đà Nẵng) and Vijaya (Quy Nhơn), as professor Arti Nigam, an Indian psychologist, pointed out during the forum.

The Khmer and Chăm Hindus had one of history’s most interesting love-hate relationships. While the Chăms worshiped God Shiva, the Khmer honored God Vishnu. Like a classic sibling rivalry, they fought each other like enemies and then helped each other like best friends. After the Việt invasion in the fourteenth century, Chăm Hinduism declined and gave way to Islamic intellectualism. Some Chăms became Buddhists much like the Khmer. Chăm society became culturally fragmented, by which some people hung on to the Hindu faith, while others followed the newer Islamic trend.

The most famous story between the Chăm and Việt during this time was that of Princess Huyền Trân, the daughter of Viet King Trần Anh Tông. After decades of conflict, King Trần Anh Tông and the Chăm King Chế Mân signed a historic land-for-peace deal. In this agreement, the Chăms would cede to the Việts two provinces and the Chăm King would marry the beautiful Việt Princess, thus joining two kingdoms into one family.

But the Việts did not keep their side of the deal. After King Chế Mân died, the Việt king ordered an attack on the Chăms to retrieve his daughter, because he feared that Princess Huyền Trân would be burned alive in the Chăm king’s funeral pyre as dictated by Chăm custom. That attack turned out to be the first shot in the Việt campaign of Nam Tiến (southward expansion) that eventually annexed all of Champa and part of Khmer Kingdom into Vietnam’s territory.

The story of Princess Huyền Trân captured Việt imagination for the ages. It has a dramatic cast of characters including a powerful Việt king also a loving father, a courageous and lovely princess, and a barbaric enemy who would sacrifice an innocent woman, not to mention the man who would lead the Princess’s rescue was rumored to be her own former lover.

But unbeknown to most Việts today, there is another side to this story. Apparently, Princess Huyền Trân was never in any danger of being sacrificed. According to Chăm custom of the time, only the Queen could choose to sacrifice herself in order to empower the throne for her descendants. To do so, she would have needed approval from a ruling council, in case she was needed to rule the country. Sacrifice one’s life for a greater cause was nothing new nor undesirable in either Việt or Chăm culture at the time. It was the queen’s choice to sacrifice herself. But Princess Huyền Trân was not the queen, but the King’s concubine, albeit an important one. There was no way she could die from Chăm custom.

Cultural Survival at Stake

The West never got to know Champa, except for what little Marco Polo had wrote about this fabled kingdom during his brief visit to the Chăm seaport Singapura (Hội An). By the time Western countries arrived in large numbers in the latter centuries, Champa was already relegated to archeological and historical curiosities. French colonization that stopped Việt expansionism came too late for the Chăms, as it could only help to save the Khmer kingdom instead. As the Việts pushed southward, the once seafaring Chăm people moved farther south and then into Cambodia with the largest number living in a land-locked community called Kampong Cham.

Once both Hindus, the Khmer (now Buddhists) and the Chăms (now Muslims) lived peacefully side by side, guided by each of their own gentle religion. But then the Vietnam War came and followed with the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Untold number of Chăm were killed in the seventies for the crime of being non-indigenous. Ironically this time, it was the Vietnamese communists that went into Cambodia to get rid of their fellow communists, the Khmer Rouge, and saved the whole country from total annihilation.

In the twenty-first century, the threat of physical persecution has lifted, but the struggle for cultural survival is more fierce than ever. Like all indigenous cultures, the Chăm culture faces a direct assault from the pop culture which sways young people away from traditional values. Vân Anh’s generation must deal with the difficult task of redefining what it means to be a Chăm in today’s complex globalized world.

Khmer Chăm women visit the site where large number of Chăms were killed during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror (1975-1979)

Indifference toward being different

In central Vietnam today, small Chăm villages still remained. Vân Anh grew up in one of those villages near Phan Rang (formerly Panduranga). She spoke fluent Chăm and Vietnamese. Her community was Islamic. They prayed and worshipped Allah and carried on a proud culture, personified in traditional dances, rituals and family’s heirlooms and relics. Invisibility seemed to have been a good thing for Vân Anh, until she came to America in the post 9/11 era. Islam is viewed with deep suspicion here. Yet, she could not part from her head scarf that stands for her faith and integrity. Many people wanted her to take off her scarf, including some family members, for her own good in order to blend in with the hair-obsessed culture of America. But refusing to conform to societal norm may be an easier way for Vân Anh to cope. It may give her a tough day at work, but offers her better sleep at night.

Flanked by international visitors, Chăm villagers stand next to their makeshift mosque in Kampong Cham, Cambodia

To be able to dream is a success

It does not take much to realize that Vân Anh carries a heavy burden of history on her shoulders. Yet we never heard Vân Anh talking about violence and revenge against the Việt or anyone else. On a practical level that’s a good thing because she’s got too many identities to afford to let any of them be at war with each other. She is a Chăm, a Việt, a Muslim and an American—a quad-cultural identity. Her cultural interest is in neither Chăm nor Việt or American alone, but in how much all cultures have in common and bring richness to her spirit. Her interest in Islam is very intense.

She started a non-profit group, Moonlight Humanity, to help the poor in Southeast Asia. Given that her Chăm people in Cambodia and Vietnam live in abject poverty and in much isolation from the world, she dreams of an ambitious plan to build schools, dig wells, finance new businesses, and construct mosques and community centers. So please visit her group’s website to learn or contribute.

Starting an ambitious charitable organization at a time of global economic downturn may seem unwise, but it would be a mistake to dismiss her vision. We need to be reminded of who Vân-Anh is and where she came from. She is a Chăm, the people with a glorious history and persistent sense of survival. As a Chăm, she is still here, growing and thriving, rather than succumbing to hatred and despair. For any human being who could come out of a genocidal history and still be able to dream big, not for one but for many, that is a success—a big success.

Ultimately, as human beings, each of us are only responsible for our own dreams. The reality is often created by the collective dreams of many. There is nothing wrong with Vân Anh dreaming of a better life for her people. But her dream could only come true there if other Việts, Muslims, Americans, and people in the world also share her dream for the Chăm people to get what they’ve deserved all along—dignity, security and respect.

Cultural productions

“Why are old Vietnamese songs so sad?” a listener once asked. Many old Chăm and Việt songs tend to be very sad because they were not written for the mere entertainment value. They are more like spiritual doors onto the sacredness of life, love and relationship. Losses and heartbreaks have the power to help us appreciate life more deeply than pleasantries. These songs are like fish sauce for the soul. Salty, yes, but they’re supposed to bring out the full flavor of your own humanity. Watch our video the Shame of Đồ Bàn (Hận Đồ Bàn) – Đồ Bàn being the former Cham capital near present day Quy Nhơn. It’s a very touching song! By the way, Quy Nhơn (the modern name for Đồ Bàn) means “returning to humanity”. See if this song does that for you.

Now listen to a part of the song Hòn Vọng Phu II (the Rock of the Waiting Wife II). The song is about a Chăm-inspired Vietnamese legend that celebrated the woman’s love for her husband. She waited for her husband, who was at war for so long that the weather washed away her flesh to leave behind her internal will in a form of a rock statue. Even mountains and rivers had to change their paths to yield to her desire and persistence. This song is spliced together with Chăm language in the first part and Việt in the latter. English subtitles are included. Enjoy!

Now listen to one of Vân Anh’s favorite songs. Làng Chăm Quê Em (My Chăm Village) is a song Vân Anh knew from her childhood. It’s about two young lovers of two different socioeconomic classes and religions looking to build a life together. The song, sung both in Vietnamese and Chăm, is performed by a famous Chăm-Việt singer, Chế Linh. Performers wear authentic Chăm costumes of white garb and red ear-tassels. The setting is in Cambodia’s Angkor Thom, which was built in 10th century for Hindu worship. During that time, the Chăms were also Hindus and had vast temples similar to the Khmer. Today, Cambodia is home to the largest population of Chăm people in the world. Enjoy this video from Vân Sơn Entertainment!

— Cultural Quest Foundation, the author, was formed in California in late 2008 as a non-profit, public benefit organization. The board of organizers consists of Tâm M. Đặng, Thái P. Nguyễn, Tuấn M. Nguyễn, and Brandon H. Nguyễn.

Please take the time to rate this post (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. And join the conversation and leave a comment! Did you learn anything new about the Chăm? What was most striking or interesting to you?

Sharon Tran and Catherine Nguyen win prizes in our subscriber drive!


diaCRITICS wants to add 100 new subscribers! The 25th, 50th, 75th, and 100th subscribers (and those who referred them) get their pick of prizes. Sharon Tran is our 25th subscriber and has chosen Kim-An Lieberman’s poetry book Breaking the Map. diaCRITICS editor Catherine Nguyen referred Sharon and will get a signed DVD of Operation Babylift. They both happen to be studying for their doctorates in literature at UCLA. We‘re a little late getting this information posted, and we have well over 30 new subscribers, so please keep signing up via the email link or the networked blogs option on the right. And if you want to refer people and are on networked blogs, you can invite all your friends on Facebook to join via networked blogs!

A little more information about Sharon Tran and Catherine Nguyen comes below.

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“Simply put, this is a wonderful first collection….This is a geography that demands attention.” – Samuel Green, Washington State Poet Laureate

“…whatever forty-year-old image we might still remember from Vietnam or America that is part real and part television, she makes whole, new, and vibrant. She makes us a witness more than reader.”
– Shawn Wong, Author of Homebase and American Knees

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Where are you from?

Sharon: I am from Queens, New York.

Catherine: I’m from Orange, California.

Sharon Tran

Tell us something else about yourself.

Sharon: I enjoy traveling, learning new languages, and spending hours in cafes drinking coffee, reading, and doing manga art.

Catherine: I have a twin sister, who is an English PhD candidate at Madison. She works on 18th and 19th century British literature, which is actually my favorite literary period.

*editor’s note: Sharon is also a twin. Her twin is also studying for a Ph.D. in English.  We did not plan any of this.

Catherine Nguyen

What are you studying at UCLA?

Sharon: I am a first-year English PhD student at UCLA specializing in Asian American literature and cultural productions. In my current research I consider the racialization of Asian Americans in terms of broader biopolitical implications. I am particularly interested in how the biopolitical valuation of life legitimates and exacerbates death for other populations and how contemporary novels such as Susan Choi’s A Person of Interest provide grounds for theorizing a means of transcending that destructive biopolitical-necropolitical binary. I see Choi as articulating a politics of negativity that compels a more constructive attitude towards life and death, a politics that resists privileging life in order to preclude death and accentuates the importance of risking one’s material bodily life and absence in order to initiate new conditions of possibility that will enable new ways of presencing.

Catherine: I’m a UCLA Comparative Literature PhD student studying Vietnamese diasporic literatures and Asian American studies.  Working on 1.5 and second generation Vietnamese diasporic literatures in French and English, I examine how these writers negotiate the(ir) past and history and how they engage in a work of memory in a way that opens up different ways of conceiving of and working through the past and the history of Viet Nam and of the Vietnamese diaspora. Rather than falling prey to problematic readings of nostalgia and melancholia, I argue that they articulate alternative discourses of ontology, temporality, alterity, and hospitality. In doing so, they challenge the fixing of their diasporic subjectivity within specific national citizenship, thus opening up space for multiple positionalities as Vietnamese diasporic subjects.

Do you have a favorite Vietnamese or Vietnamese diasporic work of art? If so, tell us about it.

Sharon: My favorite Vietnamese diasporic work of art is Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt. I love Truong’s lyrical prose and her fascinating revision of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ romantic interlude in Paris during the 1930s from the perspective of Binh, their live-in Vietnamese cook. I think that the novel also compels an important re-conceptualization and expansion of the field of Asian American Studies beyond the US nation-state, recovering a repressed history of the triangulation of US-European imperialism in Asia.

Catherine: One of my favorites is le thi diem thuy’s The gangster we are all looking for (2003) because it is an eloquent and poetic work of prose fiction. The novel speaks of the hardships of immigration, of a Vietnamese family’s reunion and adapting to life in San Diego, California, and of the narrator’s coming of age in the wake of loss and displacement. Because the novel offers such a different perspective and vision of the Vietnamese American/diasporic subject, it sparked my interest in Vietnamese American literature. Shortly thereafter, I changed my research focus from comparative Francophone literatures to Vietnamese diasporic writings.

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Commemorating Operation Babylift, a U.S. relief effort that rescued more than 2,500 orphans out of Vietnam in 1975, this update is an informative and passionate look at the aftermath of war and the innocent children lostin the chaos of battle. Filmmaker Tammy Nguyen Lee combines archival black-and white film footage of bombings, evacuations, orphaned babies, and more with interviews with parents, volunteers, and rescued Vietnamese adoptees (now adults) who tell their stories with honesty and poignancy.

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Please subscribe now or refer more people!

We want something from you. What do you want from diaCRITICS?


[before we begin: have you heard about our subscriber drive? win an iPod and other prizes!]

diaCRITICS wants some good writers. And commenters. And wants to know what the readers want.

We’re always looking for new writers. Seriously. We ask our friends and contacts for articles and contributions all the time, but our social network is limited. We have found people who volunteered after reading this site (Bao Nguyen, one of our managing editors) and we have found people by reading comments and tracking them down to get them to give us something longer (Julie Nguyen, who wrote Generation Trauma). So step forward and contact us if you want to contribute in some way: editing, designing, writing, or TRANSLATING.

That last one is a barrier we haven’t broken yet. We are committed to writing about the diaspora wherever it takes place and in any language, but so far, no luck in getting writers writing anything besides English, or in finding people with the time to translate existing articles into other languages. So if you don’t feel like writing anything original, but feel like you can spread knowledge through translating, then let us know. You can pick the article you want to translate.

Then there’s the issue of comments. Not too many of them here in diaCRITICS. We’d like to see more and have more of a discussion. Do we need to be doing something different to promote more comments and discussion?

And is there anything you’d like to see done differently or done new in diaCRITICS? Give us a comment and share your thoughts. (And if it’s about the design, we’re working on redesigning the website to make it more accessible and eye-catching. Give us suggestions here, too!)

You can always contact us privately via the “contact us” page above if you’d like to write for us or have ideas.

In Conversation with artist Hoang Duong Cam


I met artist Hoang Duong Cam on an art trip to Vietnam in 2007 and was immediately struck by the impact of his artwork—at once deeply personal and thoughtful as well as fantastically creative and culturally relevant.  As I perused his website I came across a diverse range of recent and upcoming work.  I asked if I could send him a few questions with hopes of possibly unveiling a deeper understanding of the influences behind his art making…  he generously agreed.

LT:   When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

HDC:  I decided to become an artist very early, in the eighties. At that time, life in Vietnam, particularly mine, was very difficult. Everyday I had to deal with the significant short in necessities and entertainment, the “bullying” culture and also the tension that seem to be permanent in my family.  I was in a drawing class taught by the [now] deceased painter Pham Viet Song and found the passion for pursuing art. It was an old-school studio classroom, where the belief in love and art is generously disseminated. I felt protected and appreciated what art offered to me. That made me determined to become an artist. During that time, doing drawings and paintings seem to be the only way out for me.

LT:  You moved to Ho Chi Minh City after living in Hanoi.  Why did you move and how has it influenced your work?

HDC:  In 2001 I moved to Ho Chi Minh City after five years of practicing contemporary art in Hanoi. I was about to lose my job as a graphic designer for a magazine at that time and it was much easier to find a good job in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why I chose to settle down in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s economic center.  At first, it was difficult to adjust to the enormous difference between the two places, and the very marginalized environment regarding art and culture in the city. It was really a challenging situation and it made me work hard in my studio. In a very good way, this city with all its charm and dynamism gave me lots of energy and inspiration.

LT:  Your work weaves fluidly through the mediums of painting, sculpture, photography and video.  You write, “In my practice, I’d like to imagine the aesthetic as a liquid and the art-making process as a mold, so that the aesthetic, to a certain degree, could be molded by the artist naturally, flexibly even without any awareness by the artist.”  Does each medium serve as a different voice for different ideas?  How would you describe your relationship/artistic intention with regards to each?

Ideal Fall, 2009

Still from Falling Cloud, 2008

HDC:  The most important to me is the freedom of expression and experimentation. Looking back at my previous works, I realize that most of them do not firmly belong to any category, but in between. It’s the conceptual approach that I often use to develop my artwork, even in several painting series. For example, for “Ideal Fall”, I started with Plato’s “ideal form” that lead me to create an utopian paper sculpture. With a conceptual approach, I want to highlight the performative aspect as well as the ‘falling’ process. Eventually, I ended up using photography to express this idea. My intention is not to make cross-categorical artwork, it’s about the conceptual approach and its development.

Painting is my long-time devotion. I find the process of making painting is psychologically and meditatively evoking. During its making I try to figure out the fragile connection between its concept and the unconscious. I am always rewarded in considering this process as it nurtures my conceptual art practice. I find the process to be very personal, very direct. I love the way it revolves around the most sensible connection between mind and action.

The Weirdness of an Ideal Mind, Painting No.5, acrylic on canvas, 2010

LT:  What do you like to do most when you are not making or thinking about art?

HDC:  Well, I spend most of my free time with my family. I am fortunate to have a wonderful family to be proud of. Whatever you do at the end of the day, being with your loved ones is the most precious thing on earth.

LT:  What are you working on now?

HDC:  I am still working around the concept of “idealism,” put it in the context of Vietnamese custom. Several works have been done, like the “Falling Cloud” video installation, “Ideal Fall” photography series, and a painting/sculpture duo series titled “The Weirdness of an Ideal Mind”. In the next few months, I will be back at studio for a new painting series and develop a 3-D animation project.

Hoang Doung Cam’s work and press can be visited at his website.

– post by Lien Truong, who lives and works in Northern California, where she teaches painting and drawing at Humboldt State University

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Outspoken: Vietnamese Poets of the Diaspora II, featuring Dao Strom


On April 24th, the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network presented “Outspoken: Vietnamese Poets of the Diaspora II” at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Six writers read from their works at this event, with poetry being somewhat loosely defined. This was the second time that DVAN put on this event, with sponsorship from Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.  You can check out photographs of the writers from the first time we did it here (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

For the second event, the featured writers were Anhvu Buchanan, Andrew Lam, Kim-An Lieberman, Dao Strom, Lan Tran, and Trinh T. Minh-ha. Periodically over the next few weeks, diacCRITICS will post the videos of each of these writers’ performances. The emcee is Viet Nguyen. Keep checking back!

The third reader featured (in reverse alphabetical order) is Dao Strom.

Dao Strom has published two books of fiction, Grass Roof, Tin Roof (2003) and The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys (2006), and released two albums, Send Me Home (2004) and Everything That Blooms Wrecks Me (2008). She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a James Michener Fellowship, and First Prize in The Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award; she performed at the 2006 South by Southwest Music Festival and the 12th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. Her music and literature have been featured on KQED’s “Pacific Time” and WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show. Dao currently resides in Portland, Oregon where she is at work on a narrative song-cycle, Requiem for the Migration & Mother(land)songs, and a third book of prose.

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