Dinh Q. Lê has emerged as one of the leaders of the avant-garde art scene in Ho Chi Minh City. Alternating among the roles of artist, curator, educator, and community activist, he has been largely responsible for nurturing the development of contemporary art in Vietnam, beginning with his cofounding of Sàn Art in 2007, the city’s first nonprofit art space and reading room. As a former refugee and returning Viet Kieu artist, Lê is most interested in the role of memory in relation to personal and societal trauma, especially in the wake of the American-Vietnam War and the ongoing plight of boat refugees around the world due to regional and international sociopolitical upheavals. Born in Ha Tien, a Vietnamese town on the Cambodian border, the artist’s family immigrated to the United States in 1978 shortly after the end of the American-Vietnam War, where the artist remained until his return to Vietnam in 1993. Lê’s multifaceted practice deftly explores the complexities of immigration, the implicit racism in government policymaking, and the interrelations of personal history with larger cultural histories.
Dinh Q. Lê (b. 1968 in Ha Tien, Vietnam; lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles). Light and Belief: Sketches of Life from the Vietnam War, 2012. 70 drawings in pencil, watercolor, ink, and oil on paper, and single-channel video with sound. Video duration: 35 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Shoshana Wayne Gallery, and 10 Chancery Lane Gallery.
Lê often merges traditional culture and individual experiences with official accounts of historical events to acknowledge the subjectivity of historical narratives and to memorialize the civilian casualties that result from complex international border wars and government actions. Light and Belief: Sketches of Life from the Vietnam War commemorates the experience of Vietnamese soldiers through the eyes of local artists who accompanied the military campaigns. This multimedia installation includes up to one hundred found drawings (seventy of which are on view here), made by soldiers from the North Vietnamese Army, that depict the humanity of war through the faces and everyday routines of the troops on the ground. Shown alongside these works on paper is a video of interviews Lê conducted with the artists to record their remembrances in relation to their drawings and includes animated sequences that punctuate the commentary. These personal stories amplify the individual hopes, anxieties, and sacrifices of those who believed they were serving their country. The installation also points toward the complex relationships among art, ideology, and propaganda requisitioned by government agencies during wartime activities. Through his retelling of the war, Lê not only questions the construction of history, but also attempts to initiate a meaningful dialogue about the United States’ role in the American-Vietnam War and other military conflicts.
Dinh Q. Lê (b. 1968 in Ha Tien, Vietnam; lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles). WTC from Four Perspectives, 2016. C-print scrolls. Courtesy of the artist and Shoshana Wayne Gallery.
Dinh Q. Lê’s use of photography as a material in his work has recently manifested in his focus on the mechanical process of creating photographs. In this artwork Lê has selected an image that captures the devastating moment when the World Trade Center Towers were attacked by terrorists in 2001. His use of digital technology to stretch and essentially obliterate any recognizable features within the image neutralizes the horror of the event, and this, coupled with the grand scale of the physical print, transforms the snapshot of a traumatic urban event into a lyrical abstract landscape evocative of a traditional Chinese handscroll. This series accompanies a four-channel video installation of the same name and alludes to the interrelationship of time, memory, and experience.
September 8, 2017 – January, 21, 2018. 725 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021 – 212-288-6400