In the Art of Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Vietnam’s Nightmares Live On

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One of the most thought-provoking and visually stunning exhibitions in New York this summer is “Tuan Andrew Nguyen: Radiant Remembrance” at the New Museum. This show explores the concept of intergenerational trauma caused by war, and the artist, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, uses video and other art objects to convey his message. The three moving-image installations in the exhibition create narratives that exist both within the cinematic space and in the real world, evoking a strong emotional response in viewers.

Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1976, and immigrated to the United States with his family three years later. After earning his B.A. and M.F.A., he returned to Vietnam and found that the country and its struggles became the central theme of his art. He currently resides and works in Ho Chi Minh City.

As a documentarian and collaborator, Nguyen seeks to heal the fragmented lives and suppressed memories of those affected by colonization, war, and displacement, particularly in Vietnam. “Radiant Remembrance” is his first major exhibition in an American museum and focuses on individuals living in the shadow of the First Indochina War (1946-1954) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975).

Two of the video installations in the exhibition, “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming” and “Because No One Living Will Listen,” explore the aftermath of the First Indochina War. These powerful works incorporate scenes of intergenerational and cross-cultural exchanges among the descendants of Senegalese troops who fought for the French in the war and married Vietnamese women. These scenes reveal the complexities of identity and the long-lasting effects of war on families.

The most ambitious and possibly the highlight of the exhibition is “The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon.” This 58-minute video is accompanied by sculptures that are also depicted on screen. Set in Quang Tri, a Vietnamese province heavily affected by U.S. bombings during the Vietnam War, the video tells a tragic and indomitable tale. The sculptures, made from discarded war materials, play an essential role in the video’s narrative, symbolizing the danger and resourcefulness found in the aftermath of war.

Nguyen’s ability to blend different art mediums is particularly evident in “The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon,” where the sculptures become integral to the storytelling. The sculptures include a bombshell transformed into a temple gong, a statue with damaged arms repaired using brass from artillery shells, and an Eastern-inspired artifact based on an Alexander Calder mobile.

The exhibition concludes with “Because No One Living Will Listen,” a two-channel video that incorporates computer-generated imagery (CGI) for the first time in Nguyen’s work. It centers around a Vietnamese woman named Habiba, who carries a letter to her deceased Moroccan father and mournfully moves through the landscape. Symbolizing the complexities of her heritage, she also carries a small model of the Morocco Gate, a monument built by Moroccan defectors from the French Army. This video explores themes of loss, longing, and personal history.

Overall, “Radiant Remembrance” is a powerful and emotionally charged exhibition. Nguyen’s ability to incorporate personal interviews, collaborative artmaking, and different art mediums makes his work deeply impactful. By delving into the lasting effects of war and colonization, Nguyen prompts viewers to contemplate the enduring suffering of individuals and communities, while also finding inspiration in the resilience of the human spirit.

You can experience “Tuan Andrew Nguyen: Radiant Remembrance” at the New Museum until September 17th.

About Emily Maya

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