Tag Archives: Australia

Dinh Q. Lê’s ‘Erasure’ Opens in Australia

Acclaimed artist Dinh Q. Lê, the first Vietnamese name to have a solo show at Museum of Modern Art in New York, is well-known as a fine arts photographer whose woven photographs interlace history and memory in a visually complex and emotionally compelling way. Yet for his powerful statements and meditations he uses not only photographs but sculpture, installation, and video— for example, The Farmers and the Helicopters, among many other projects.

Here diaCRITICS contributor BoiTran Huynh-Beattie — a researcher, curator and art historian in Australia — reviews Lê’s first solo show in Australia, Erasure. By chance, the exhibit occurs just as Australia is revisiting its relationship to the many ‘boat people’ who have emigrated from Việt Nam. Compellingly, the exhibit also gestures to Australia’s history of ‘boat people’ immigrants from Europe, who colonized Australia. And photographs, again, play a significant part in the meaning of the show. We truly wish we could be in Sydney for this!

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On entering the installation, the DVD projection of a burning sailing vessel flickering on a huge screen immediately grabs the viewer’s attention. A timber path meanders through the dimly lit space, above thousands of abandoned photographs scattered face down on the floor forming a ‘sea’. On top of this sea of photographs floats an old wooden fishing boat, broken in half among some rocks. The viewer must stroll along this path, intuitively avoiding the sea but there’s no fear or panic, just an uncanny silence from the lost identities in the photographs. The viewer’s curiosity is aroused to pick up and turn over some photographs; and in doing so, participate in an interactive component of the project.

In Erasure, Dinh strings many of Australia’s political issues into his own personal history. The video of a burning nineteenth century vessel refers to European settlement in Australia; prompting the notion that Australia’s colonial history and the arrival of migrating Europeans as “boat people”. The wreckage of a small fishing boat lends reference to the tragedy off Christmas Island in December 2010, evoking memories of a familiar nightmare for many Vietnamese boat people in their exodus between 1975-1990. As a boat person, Dinh has been searching for his family’s photographs because they could not be carried during their escape. However, he has failed to find any and instead, has purchased thousands of abandoned photographs, from second hand shops in Ho Chi Minh City, which in his words to Margaret Throsby, “became my surrogate family.” These many thousands of forsaken photographs and their chaotic appearance in this installation represent the lives of refugees who perished at sea during their desperate journey to freedom.

Erasure is Dinh Q. Lê’s first solo show in Australia, and was commissioned by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF). When Gene Sherman, Chairperson and Executive Director of SCAF met with Dinh two years ago at San-Art independent artist space in Ho Chi Minh City, she did not think that the opening of Erasure in July 2011 would coincide with the interminable refugee debate that rages in Australia. In June 2011, SBS Television put to air a three-episode documentary, Go back to where you came from in which six ordinary Australians embarked on a 25 days journey, to experience something of what refugees and asylum seekers have to go through. The documentary put these Australians into refugees’ shoes and widely opened a gate for more compassion. The book launch of Boat People two days before the opening of Erasure was also a good connection to the theme.

Dinh Q. Lê and Dr. Gene Sherman, the founder and Executive Director of Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation

The smartly designed catalogue is small but has a wealth of information, with a preface by Gene Sherman, outlining her own family’s migration from Apartheid and her artistic interest in the establishment of SCAF. The interview with Dinh Q Lê by Dolla S. Merrillees, General Manager and Artistic and Educational programs of SCAF answered many questions about Dinh Q Lê and his art practice. An essay in the catalogue by Zoe Butt says it all, about the political circumstances involved with Australia’s “inherited historical phobia of the ‘Other’”, about the ugliness of forced migration as an inevitable consequence of world wars, and about the mapping of collective memories that had already faded into the past.

Viewers who expect to see colourful and exciting images might be disappointed with Erasure. Instead, this installation poses the question again and again, whose “happy moments” in those abandoned photographs, which would take onlookers to phantom the ‘Other’s’ lives. Dinh’s works always reserve space for the audience; everyone can find him or herself in his works. The artist conceptually interlaces various layers of historical accounts with social and current issues, such as migration, consumerism, and collective identities.

Dinh’s works have never been shown in Vietnam. However, he said during his recent discussion with Margaret Throsby, “Sàn-Art independent artist space is part of my work”.

The audience for 'Erasure,' in Sydney, on July 12

— Dr. Boitran Huynh-Beattie has worked with the Australian National University, Melbourne University, and the University of Wollongong on different projects related to Vietnam’s Diaspora since 2005. She is also an independent curator and art researcher. She was the project curator of Nam Bang! at Casula Powerhouse 2007-2009.

More about the artist 

Dinh Q Lê was born in Hà Tiên in 1968. His family escaped by boat and then settled in 1989 in the US where Dinh completed his education; he obtained MA in photography at School of Visual Arts, New York in 1993.  Dinh Q Lê  has been included in most prestigious biennales and triennials around the globe, to name a few: the Bienale Cuvée in Austria in 2009, the 2nd Singapore Biennale in 2008; the 5th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia and the 6th Gwangju Biennial in 2006; the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003.  Dinh Q Lê  is the first Vietnamese name to have a solo show at Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2010. He is the co-founder of The Vietnam Foundation for the Arts in Los Angeles and Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City. For his work and efforts in cultural programs, he was awarded the Prince Claus Award in 2010.

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Khue Nguyen — A Naked Star

Guest diaCRITIC blogger Boitran Huynh-Beattie—a professor, curator and art historian in Australia—introduces a talented Vietnamese-Australian gay artist, Khue Nguyen. Last year, Nguyen was a finalist with his self-portrait, Unleashed, in the prestigious Archibald Prize of 2010. He is currently exhibiting his collected works, In Search of Sensuality, in Sydney. His art is expressive and evocative, with textural layers of differing styles revealing simultaneous meanings—especially his stunning self-portrait Unleashed (featured below.) Wow!

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Originating in winter 1979, the Mardi Gras Festival in Sydney became a voice for human rights and justice for those labelled ‘criminals’ because they loved someone of the same sex or choose to be in a same sex relationship.

In 1981, the Mardi Gras Festival was moved to summer time, so that participants could enjoy more activities in the open air, especially the evening Mardi Gras Gay Parade along Oxford Street, usually attended by some ten thousand participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators. For the past two decades, the Mardi Gras Festival in Sydney has developed into an international event, attracting hundred of thousands of interstate and overseas tourists.

The 2011 festival season embraced a Vietnamese-Australian gay artist, Khue Nguyen with a solo exhibition: In Search of Sensuality, held at Art Atrium gallery in Bondi Junction in Sydney.

Khue Nguyen's self portrait, 'Unleashed'

Khue Nguyen graduated from the Fine Arts College in Saigon in 1984, escaped Vietnam in 1986, and arrived in Australia in 1987. In 2008, after working for years as a graphic designer, Khue decided to pursue a full-time art practice, which led to him to become a finalist with his self-portrait, Unleashed, in the prestigious Archibald Prize of 2010. Khue is the first Vietnamese name ever to reach the finals. The Archibald Prize is worth AUD 50,000 but what’s more, is the status and curiosity (and sometimes controversy) generated by both the public and the media, in the prize-winning painting and the overall selection of works.

Dawn is Near

The exhibition titled In Search of Sensuality displays 30 drawings that celebrate the beauty of naked (mostly male) bodies. The nakedness however, does not emphasize a sexual interest in the body but is strongly expressive of human feelings and vulnerability. Khue Nguyen is really at home in employing drawing techniques he learned from the art school in Saigon, to convey his personal message. His use of romantic titles, such as Fly Me To The Moon and Never Felt This Way Before, add another dimension to these Michelangelo-like drawings.

‘Fly Me To The Moon’

Khue claims, “Had I not lived in Australia, I would not have been able to express myself freely.” He has peacefully lived with his lawyer partner for 11 years.

In Sino-Vietnamese, “Khuê” means “star”. In the contemporary art scene with postmodern concepts and illusions, In Search of Sensuality reminds us of dimension of beauty in the human form that we often take for granted.

Dr. Boitran Huynh-Beattie has worked with the Australian National University, Melbourne University and the University of Wollongong on different projects related to Vietnam’s Diaspora since 2005.

Huynh-Beattie worked with Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney, on several exhibitions. From 2009, Huynh-Beattie became the curator and art historian working with Asiarta Foundation, currently researching Witness Collection, a private collection of Vietnamese art works featuring influential artists from 1921 to the present.

Previously she has written for us The Exhibition of ‘Realism in Asian Art’ and the Symposium ‘Avant Garde in Asian Art’ in Seoul.


Simon Chan, a practicing architect who has a passion for art, founded the Art Atrium gallery in 2009. The gallery focuses on Asian and Aboriginal art and catalogues are available online.

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Teleconference: The Tale of Kieu in English

Eric Henry will inaugurate the Viet Nam Literature Seminar
with his lecture, “The Tale of Kieu: Some Translators’ Approaches to the Vietnamese National Poem” on Thursday, September 16, 2010, at 5 PM (NY).

The webinar, followed by discussion, will take at least one and a half
hours and will close at 7 PM (NY).

The Talk

“The Tale of Kieu: Some Translators’ Approaches to the Vietnamese National Poem” serves equally as an introduction to the poem for English-language readers and as an in-depth discussion of Nguyen Du’s prosody for Vietnamese literature specialists.

Eric Henry is Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.   He interviewed revolutionary defectors as an enlisted man in the United States Army.  Author of the first English article on the Chinese Kim Van Kieu, he most recently has translated and annotated the memoirs of Pham Duy.

Eric goes through the choices made by English translators of Kieu to
convey different aspects of Nguyen Du’s work. This year’s iteration of
the lecture will add discussion of Timothy Allen’s version to discussion
of those by Huynh Sanh Thong (Yale’s wartime Vietnamese instructor) and Vladislav Zhukov (an Australian rifleman in Viet Nam).

Eric will broadcast by teleconference with an in-person audience from the porch of the Viet Nam Literature Project, in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Handouts will be posted at the Tale of Kieu entry on Wikivietlit.


All are invited to join the webinar. A previous version of the talk delighted an audience of twenty-one, including Vietnamese Studies researchers such as Erik Harms, Ben Kiernan, and Christian Lentz as well as Asianists from Carolina and Duke, visitors from Viet Nam, rural neighbors and tech colleagues.

Please contact Dan Duffy, editor@vietnamlit.org, for the dial-in number and conference code. There is no charge beyond normal costs for your phone service.  If you would prefer to join us on the porch, you are welcome.

We see the seminar as a public event.  Requesting the dial-in number will be taken as permission to post audio and transcript of all discussion to the VNLP website. Reveal your identity as you see fit.

The Seminar

The Viet Nam Literature Seminar is convened to create and promote a usable critical tradition in English on topics in Vietnamese literature, broadly conceived, of widespread interest. Seminars will take place annually on dates of commemoration meaningful among Vietnamese people and as well to the public in France, the United States, and Australia.

They are inspired by lectures by M. Fournie at Langues O, Mme. Langlet’s seminar at the Sorbonne, and Chris Goscha’s at EHESS which I took part in over 2000-2001 thanks to a Chateaubriand fellowship. M. Fournie’s sense of national service, Mme. Langlet’s burden of transmitting a tradition, and Goscha’s inclusion of as many of Paris’ many networks of Vietnamese thought as possible all inspire me.

In this first academic year the Viet Nam Literature Seminar will begin to commemorate the death anniversary of Nguyen Du, with Eric Henry’s lecture; Armistice Day (EU) and Veterans Day (US), with an interview of novelist David A. Willson by Marc Leepson, arts editor of The Veteran; the fall of Saigon, with Dana Sachs and a panel of Babylift orphans; and Asian Pacific Heritage Month, with an interview of poet Linh Dinh by Da Mau critic Thuy Dinh on his new novel, Love Like Hate.


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