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Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu"
Natalia Kraevskaia
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
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Yes, Nora, you are right, to be apolitical doesn’t mean to be non-political. I would say, that in the socialist’s countries it always had been even opposite: to be apolitical was a sign of being political, a sign of non-acceptance of the mainstream government politics. And there had been dozens of such “apolitical” artists before “Doi moi” in Vietnam. May be this idea of apolitism is still in the heads of Vietnamese artists.   I agree as well that we can’t say that now artists in Vietnam are totally not political. To make political art is not simply to incorporate countless faces of Mao in the body of the work (the case of Chinese art) or hundreds times to paint an ironical image of a pioneer with a bugle (a pesky Russian comment on Stalin's words about happy childhood). I have a feeling that this easy-read posters-looking political “art” is mainly made to suit the expectations of the western public (same as our notorious buffaloes and girls in ao dai). Like literature differs from journalism, political art can’t be reduced only to caricature style criticism. I agree with the previous writing of Bradford that there are not many references to the current social situation in Vietnam in contemporary art, but at the same time we can find hidden symbolic and hint in some works. Can we say that Nguyen Minh Thanh’s installation at Berlin’s Gap Vietnam exhibition about stagnant, non-changing life of the Vietnamese peasant women is not political? Or Dinh Gia Le’s awareness of Dolly-zation of the world (Hanoi Goethe Institute, November, 2002)? Or Nguyen Duy Quang’s comment on the division of the inner being of the modern person into parts in his mannequin installation (French Embassy, December, 2002)?   And is political act only about criticizing your own government? Why not other governments or politicians (like critics on Bush’s post-11th September politics by Le Quang Ha)?  And Nguyen Van Cuong started his “Cultural pollution” critical series exactly at the same time when government began the fighting campaign against the social evils checking all video shops, closing karaoke-cafes and crashing all the signboards with the foreign names. In this sense he can be judged as very pro-government, but his work was not understood by the official institutions and once his exhibition had been cancelled a day before the opening. Instead of seeing him as comrade-in-arms the governmental institutions honored him with halo of apostate.   And why should now Vietnamese artists criticize the government? They have gotten so many things in this post-doi moi time: the access for any information, the possibility to exhibit and to sell their works, ample opportunity to travel abroad and to participate in the international shows. The rare cases of censorship and intervention in their work are often made not really by the government but by the other artists groups who have more power and who are jealous to success of their more famous colleagues.   I have also another very personal explanation of absence of interest of the artists in the political themes. As the person always living in the “social” society (USSR and then Vietnam), I contend that people from the social countries are fed up by the political topics. Westerners admire and adore political posters. Locals don’t look at them. How can I like posters if I had been oblige to look at this propaganda from the very moment I had been born: in maternity hospital, in kindergarten, in class room, at the bus stop, on the public toilet wall, in the university, at the airport and so on and so on?  People from the social society are tired of the politics, they now just wait for the different, even very slow – it’s o’key for them – improvement. Those who by their real will would explore the direct political critical issues in art are rare, the others are liars trying to build up their career pleasing definite western interests (many Chinese artists as well).   Mai Chi asks why the artists don’t touch other – moral or sexual – taboos. For me, to speak about any issue you first have to experience it – through studies, through practice, through observation. I look to the artists and feel that they just began to experience the freedom crossing many taboos themselves in their everyday life. We have Truong Tan, Chau Giang, Le Quang Ha and some others. Wait for a year or two – they will bring their life experience into art. Today a young artist brought to me wonderful drawings to see: something between sex session and contemporary dance. But he says these are people who want to fly.

© 2003 talawas