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Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu"
Nora Taylor, Veronika Radulovic, Kaomi Izu
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
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Nora Taylor: Dear participants, I apologize in advance for writing in English, but it is simply easier for me to do so. I want to begin addressing the issues that Mai Chi raised. I will be going to Japan for a week starting on the 22 of October so I hope that I can say most of what I want to say before this date. I will be visiting the Fukuoka Museum as part of my research on Vietnamese art abroad so Mai Chi's questions are particularly relevant to me. Tran Luong partook in the Fukuoka Asia Pacific Triennial as the sole representative from Vietnam so I would both disagree that artists have rarely contributed to international exhibitions, take for example Truong Tan in 1995 Copenhaguen Containers show, Vu Dan Tan, Dang Thi Khue the Brisbane Triennial, and agree. In my research on Vietnamese art abroad, I have blamed the international art world for continuing to segregate artists from Asia and/or continuing to classify artists on the basis of their ethno-nationality rather than their identities as "artists." Vietnam is at once marginalized in international circuits and made special and therefore given preference in discussions about "primitive" and "other" art forms. Discourses about Vietnamese art in International art circuits perpetuate notions of Vietnamese art as "traditional" and "exotic" and therefore highlight their appeal to tourists and foreigners looking for "authentic" art. In America, whenever Vietnamese art is exhibited, and it is rarely exhibited, the country of Vietnam is emphasized more than the artists in catalogue essays and press coverage. For example, when the show "Winding River" toured three cities in the United States, Viet Kieu protested the show because they associated the artists with the communist government. Never mind that most of the artists in the show had no affiliation with the communist party. Similarly, American journalists preferred to discuss the show's country of origin by talking about the war in Vietnam rather than attempting to understand individual artists' concerns. Artists from Asia in general are considered somewhat "anonymous." They are "Vietnamese" first and artists second. This is a problem. It is a problem for those viewing Vietnamese art but also for those making it. Because many artists in Vietnam continue to speak about their work as "Vietnamese" rather than giving it some universal value. As long as the artists perpetuate these ethno-national notions, audiences in American and elsewhere will continue to see Vietnamese art as "Vietnamese" rather than simply "art".

Veronika Radulovic: Yes, Nora, I agree, we are very fast and simple with giving categories. And tourist ethnic art is an easily acceptable product for us. But I don't agree with you in the point you say, as long as the artists perpetuate these ethno-national notions... because this seems to be exactly the problem: The curators, the art historians and collector and last not least tourists in hordes creates with a high input of money this unpleasant picture of tourist ethnic art. Because we are just souvenier-hunter of our own unprocessed problems and longings. The artists worldwide want to earn money to start a beautiful life. And specially the vietnamese artists have recognized this problem - the reception of art in western country - very fast. As you know, they are really adaptable. Since years another strong and powerful art scene creates contemporary art in Vietnam - but a pity, the international mediator of art didn´t recognized yet.
Just another question, before starting our discussion: What means international value of art for you, if not the national and cultural and personal background?

Kaomi Izu: During the last 10 years, the number of Vietnamese artists going abroad (for exhibitions, to live…) and the number of foreign artists, researchers, critics going to Vietnam (to exchange, to inform…) have been not small. The magazine Asian Art News seems to have been founded only to promote Vietnamese art. Still, up to now, not many people, even Vietnamese, really know "where Vietnamese art is". Why?

I partly agree with Nora Taylor about the prejudiced view of the international art scene on Vietnamese art. It seems to be a general problem of human beings. Everybody looks down conservatively on everybody else. This is a perception, which excludes people. For sure.

But, on the other side, we should admit that Vietnamese art itself does not have enough substance to make a difference. First of all, the system of information and critique in Vietnam is too confused and unclear. Based on mass media, books, even on exhibitions in the museums, foreigners and even Vietnamese will be not able to get a good overview about what is happening in Vietnam. Second, there are things standing in the spotlight, and there are things left in the dark. Being in the spotlight are those, which conform with the mainstream supported by the state, and acknowledged by an audience who hardly understands art and don't really needs art. This "orientation" with the view of the mass is a filter, so that those areas, which are left in the dark, although strong and powerful, will stay where they are. In the last years, Vietnamese painters are encouraged to take part in the Asian competition of Philip Morris, but increasingly painters don't want to participate. They simply don't believe they can make the hurdle setup by the national art jury. Few foreigners, or supporting organizations have tried to find out painters who are not in the spotlight, but they are only able to tell the "leg", the "nose" but not the whole "elephant".

Third, painters themselves have limitations. I don't agree with Natalie Kraevskai saying recently in Talawas "not the state, not the association for artists, but the foreigners dictate what should be painted by the painters…". Veronika Radulovic also said something similar in the round table. Don't blame on the foreigners. If painters are easy to be "dictated", to "loose themselves", then they are not painters. We have to say clearly and frankly: Vietnamese painters are inferior. We are having a crisis of awareness here, even a crisis of ethics and integrity in general. Vietnamese painters are not "dying" with their "ethno-national" view as Nora Taylor said, but they are dying in the trap of self-created symbolism with a false notion about their "village culture". This is wrong, self-delusion, sleep-inducing. It does not reflect the Vietnamese reality. It does not bring a new perspective. It is close to a Fata Morgana…

Vietnamese art needs a principial surgical operation to determine where it is and what is its place on the world art map. I agree with Nguyen Hung: Vietnamese art will have no substance if there is no art critique (see article published in Talawas).