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Đo Mai Trang, Kaomi Izu
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
Dao Mai Trang: Dear friends,
I regret not having followed and participated in this forum from the beginning due to time constraints. There is a certain accuracy in all the ideas that I've read, in so far as they relate to the present and perhaps the assumed future position of contemporary art of Vietnam. Nevertheless, when we talk about the Vietnameseness, how many of us participants can fully feel this 'Vietnameseness' in its minute details - feelings that can not be easily expressed in words? Is there anyone among us who can comfortably say, with certainty, that we know the real life environment in which contemporary Vietnamese artists are living and creating? That we know what the art-patronage and art-lovers milieu that surrounds them is like? That we can appreciate the crux of the matter - how the need to survive, to make a living, is constantly playing on the minds of the artists even if just on a subconscious level, which makes it very difficult to pursue art on a non-consumerist basis? That we can touch the raw inferiority complex of a young Vietnamese artist, with broken English or French, when he/she faces the big vast stage of the art of the world, not knowing what to touch, not knowing where to look? ..
Vietnam is a minnow of a nation, and the Vietnamese people have had to learn how to live with a flexibility concomitant with their situation, in order to avoid being oppressed to the point of extinction. This very fundamental aspect exerts a common pressure on all Vietnamese in general, and the Vietnamese artist is not an exception, when Vietnam participates in the world stage. Regrettably, in the present situation of Vietnamese contemporary art, as the materialist pressure on the artist has ceased, what has replaced it is the psychological pressure caused by prejudices, lack of information and differences in mind-sets. However, the core question is that we'll never know when this pressure will fade and alleviate from the conscious and subconscious minds of Vietnamese artists. That will be the time when Vietnamese artists can feel al ease and natural, and can interact with others in a confident and comfortable manner even beyond the nation's boundaries. That will be the time when, returning to their own country after a trip overseas, the artist's face does not glow with a bit of pride because they've just been to The West. That will be the time when Vietnamese artists can provide coherent explications of their work through their thoughts and feelings, desires and genesis that's contained in their works.
In order to arrive at that juncture earlier, the present generation of Vietnamese artists must equip themselves with so many new qualities, the two most important of which are initiative and a firm self-control when facing life challenges and new developments in the art world. I would like to ask you, how well equipped are the Vietnamese artists in these two respects?
Kaomi Izu: I am really supprised of Veronika's reaction. I don't know why you lost your cool as such. Don't you know that, I mention Philip Morris simply as an example to illustrate the point "Second..." in my opinion? Whether this prize is taken seriously or not is not important. The main point is: whether there is a "hurdle" setup by the national art jury - to determine which to let go, and which to stay - and, whether there is a belief of not making that hurdle among quite a lot of artists? Don't you think there exist such things? Thus, the point "Second..." in Natalia's opinion in October 10 is not correct, is it?
Yes. I don't have to explain to anybody "how the electrical bulb works...." However, I would like to remind you that, we, the foreigners in general - the electrical bulb - no matter how bright, would not help the one who could not see with his own eyes! The knowledge that we are fortunate to have been acquired, from education, from books, etc., which is like the electrical bulk carried with us, would not help us to understand the real art life in Vietnam. After many years observing it, I have doubted the ability to "discover" of foreign curators. To attract a few artists to do installation, performance... is not the same as to discover! The artist Vo Dinh, a Vietnamese living in America, is not without reason when he said "just like an art dealer or a Ph. D. candidate knows us more than we know ourselves" (Vo Dinh interviewed by Pham Thi Hoai in Talawas)...
Now back to the topic we are discussing. In my opinion, judging Vietnam art only superficially - the "Vietnamese-like" image - is the foreigners' near-sightedness. If Vietnamese artists create art based only upon such stylized, images-arranging, "Vietnamese-like" motifs, it is only because of their childishness, misunderstanding, or opportunism. "Vietnamese-like" is not the same as "Vietnamese-characteristic". Nora's efforts are only successful against the "Vietnamese-like" things, but when ruling out the "national character" you are mistaken. And so are you, Veronika. Pointing out the "background" (in the discussion on October 20), but failing to differentiate the "national-like" and "national-characteristic," you are confused. The government art administrators and quite a lot of Vietnamese artists, until this day, still have such confusion. This very confusion, not the "national-characteristic" or "Vietnamese-characteristic," hinders the creativity. I think that the artist Nhu Huy's opinion is right. Yes, in Vietnam, art is still considered a means for other things. Yes, in Vietnam, "making of art and the appreciation of art in its own proper language" is not considered important. Art, mostly, "has only the false appearance." Artists, mostly, "don't know who they are," etc. If we cannot explain this problem from its cultural or social roots, we cannot have a common ground to discuss the national or international value of Vietnamese art. I agree with Nhu Huy that we have not touched the most essential issues of contemporary Vietnamese art yet.
© Talawas 2002