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Margaret's Group: Gallery Visit

Changing Identity: Recent Works by Women Artists from Vietnam
by Joanne Liu


I visited the exhibit “Changing Identity: Recent Works by Women Artists from Vietnam” at the Weisman Art Museum. It was a group exhibition of about fifty different works by various women from around Vietnam. These works varied in medium depending on artist. There were sculptures, videos, and photographs, but most were paintings. But even the paintings were done in various mediums, like watercolor, oil, and Chinese ink.

At the entrance of the exhibition, an introduction is printed on the wall which explicitly states that this exhibition hoped to “celebrate the diverse expression of female identity in a changing society. Each artist in this exhibition shares a unique perspective on her own culture... [The exhibition] aims to emphasize Vietnamese women’s individual experiences and personalities in order to challenge both the notion of ‘women’ as a single category and the ‘Vietnamese artist’ as a single genre.” To this end, each artist displayed a set of pieces that exhibited a certain idea or feeling in a very cohesive style.

These pieces are very personal, and while walking through the exhibition, I felt like I was almost intruding on some else’s thoughts and feelings. I have not gotten this feeling from any of the other artists we have discussed in class but Nan Goldin’s comes the closest, because she reveals her own life through her photographs. However, Goldin’s are spontaneous and documents events as they occur. The women in the exhibition, on the other hand, all have very well planned pieces. Everything appears to be well thought through before being made, and their pieces express their point of view of what it means to them to be Vietnamese. For example, Phuong M. Do presents a set of photographs of herself in environments that continue around her while she stares back at the viewer to highlight her sense of alienation in American and Vietnam.

The piece that caught my attention the most was in the farthest room in the corner. It was made by Nguyen Bach Dan whose pieces are scenic paintings of forests and paths made with Chinese ink on brown paper that try to capture the vigor of the landscape in a photographic image. The piece I was attracted to was named “Forest Reflections” (2005). From far away, it looked like a scratchy sepia photograph of a bend in a peaceful river reflecting the forest above. However, up close it is obvious that it is made of a series of energetic, dry brush strokes crisscrossing all over the place. I really liked the contrast of energy between far and near. It truly captured the life of a quiet, personal stroll through a forest.

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I enjoyed the exhibition, and I wish it included more pieces. I recommend it to others, but only if they have the time to walk around and reflect on the pieces. If I had run through the exhibition quick, I would have missed the atmosphere created by the pieces which hold the entire exhibit together. Without it, the pieces are just a series of nice looking artworks.