: When I mentioned that Vietnamese artists exploit the " vietnameseness", I meant that what was earlier described in one article by Birgit Hussfeld as artists' "ongoing search for a national visual language" and their desire "to invent an "indigenous art" that would carry the unmistakable stamp of its country of origin, Vietnam". I think that it's not only (at least now) concern "to liberate art from French legacy" or from any other influences. The stamp of "made in Vietnam" is used mainly for the market promotion. My statement that many artists follow the market demands and that this trend is very destructive doesn't contradict with the ideas of Kaomi Izu. It's not blame on foreigners, it's accentuation of a fact that most of the artists can't resist to/go along with/ and even themselves favour the growing commercialization in art. Moreover I totally agree that there a crisis of awareness and of ethics. But this thesis will lead us to necessity of analysis of society's recent history, it's development, it's values and so on...
I think our critical statements are not about a few individuals (as Veronica may feel), but about general art scene, about the process, about the predominant trends. I understand that the structure of the process is multilayered, that there are some against-mainstream currents, that there always will be some "rebels", but, Veronica, I am curious and sorry to ask: where are they, your young talented students with the wide opened eyes to the world, just 2-3 years after the graduation? Don't tell that they have to survive. Artists have not so easy life in any society. By the way, why you had never painted buffaloes? Stable income in Hanoi.
I find that our whole discussion about "Vietnamese art" and "vietnameseness" and ethno-national notions is not in any way an attempt to separate all these issues from "art". Yes, we can continue to see Vietnamese art as Vietnamese (Hoang Ngoc Tuan), we can be interested in Vietnamese themes if there is something else behind them (Birgit). The problem is that these ethno-national notions are overemphasized with the purposes, which are too far from the artistic ones.
The question of absence of a proper language within Vietnamese art (Nguyen Nhu Huy) is not a point at discussion. Any language - verbal, musical, and visual - is only an instrument to express thought, idea, emotion, message... The ideas and thoughts - this is exactly what is missing in the mainstream Vietnamese art. During a gallery walk in Hanoi or Saigon I can read only one message expressed in a proper language: "Look here, you, stupid foreigner, with my excellent technique from fine Art Academy I will make you to pay for my meaningless buffalo, a girl in ao dai or whatever..." There is a lack of profoundness in Vietnamese art, a lack of the intellectualism, a lack of curiosity, of adventurism, of a natural for every creative person desire to understand and to reflect the life, to give own judgment on that or another event or phenomenon.
Speaking about Vietnamese artists from abroad and considering the case of Minh Ha or similar, I agree with Veronica - she is an American artist. But in the case like June Nguyen Hatsushiba, if we'll pose a question " isn't it a marketing strategy?" then we can continue: and all foreign artists living in Vietnam and trying to build up their career from here, isn't it a marketing strategy? And then next step: all these European and North American artists who went to Paris through 20th century. Was it not also partly a marketing strategy?
Many questions from Veronica's last message are extremely interesting for our further discussion. Replicas for Veronica:
- I made a wide research in Hanoi on Hanoi-Kassel streetlights exchange project. Nobody from the art community has ever heard about it except the director of Goethe institute and some people close to him.... Sure, other people (non-artists) have not heard as well. And then, even if the lights are in work and nobody knows about them and the project itself, can you call it a dialogue? Is this work has any meaning for anybody else except the artist himself?
- Thank you for sending a catalogue of Documenta. Very informative. From there I learned that this 1 Russian nomination - is a couple which for a long time already live between Berlin and New York. And if you check "born" and "live in", the statistics you or Mai Chi give changes a little bit - will be twice less.
Yes, an expression of quality. And a chance. And the curator is not obliged to check and to represent all the nations. And may be a lack of information on that or another place. And may be something else?
1. Is Trinh T. Minh-ha an American artist or a Vietnamese artist?
- If she is a mediocre artist, she would be seen as a Vietnamese woman artist
belonging to the Vietnamese community in the USA.
- If she is a average artist and achieves a little recognition in the American mainstream, she would be seen as a Vietnamese-American woman artist
- If she is an above average artist and achieves some notable recognition in the American mainstream, she would be seen as an American woman artist
- If she is an excellent artist and achieves international recognition, she would be seen as an American artist
The richness and liveliness of the contemporary American cultural and artistic landscape today does not only
exist in the mainstream and is not only
born in the mainstream. Without contributions from the American Indians and the migrants, and their offspring, from around the world, especially since World War II, it would be very much poorer. Nevertheless, standing at the centre, American people do not want to acknowledge those contributions. They only want to swallow them and deny their origins.
2. Could she achieve such success, if she has only lived and worked in Vietnam until now?
- Never. Because of one or more reasons as follows:
a. inconvenient living conditions (she might have quit her artistic career to pursuit a better job to earn a living).
b. not being able to catch up with new ideas of the art of the world (only from the 1990s, thanks to the "openness", that she could start to look through the gaps to see something outside).
c. having become conditioned to the ethnocentrism established by unending series of government's propaganda campaigns. (Please note that during the last 70 years or so, ethnocentric values have been always propagated by the government due to different reasons: in war time, it is used to gather people's power against the enemies; in peace time, it is used to make people believe that paltry national pride is much more precious than food, jobs, and human rights. It is also a tranquillizer for people to avoid having inferior complex while looking out to see dizzy developments of the free world).
d. having become conditioned to working as artistic servant of the Party, the State, and the People.
e. even if she could make the same art works of the same quality (as she has done in America), she might still be unknown due to limited promotion, or she might have been punished by "critics", or even banned by the government for having "daring" ideas.
Art in Vietnam today needs more open doors and open air so that artists can inhale and exhale more freely. It is then that ethnocentric smells fade slowly and a true health and confidence are gained. Cultural identity is what should not be discard and can never be rid of because it is a natural part of the artist's being, but paltry national pride is a type of illness that should be treated. Paltry national pride can make a Third World country, like Vietnam, poorer and more narrow-minded. Paltry national pride can make a First World country, like the USA, more arrogant, more aggressive, and even more dangerous.
© Talawas 2002