Bildmuseet at Umeå University holds most comprehensive contemporary Vietnamese art exhibition in Sweden to date.

Celebrating Umeå University’s 50th anniversary, the Bildmuseet is presenting “Mien Meo Mieng / Contemporary Art from Vietnam”. The exhibition charts the recent development of the diverse artistic production in Vietnam through the works of 14 notable artists. 

Nguyen UuDam, '
The Real Distances of Things Measured' (detail), 2015. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Nguyen UuDam, ‘
The Real Distances of Things Measured’ (detail), 2015. Image courtesy the artist.
Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

“Mien Meo Mieng / Contemporary Art from Vietnam” runs until 1 November 2015 at Bildmuseet, a centre for contemporary art and visual culture on the Arts Campus at Umeå University in Sweden. Organised by the museum, the exhibition is curated by Tran Luong, a Hanoi-based artist and one of the most prominent curators in Vietnam, with the collaboration of assistant curator Le Thuan Uyen.

Tran Thi Kim Ngoc, '
Con Oee', 2015, video and sound installation. Image courtesy the artist.

Tran Thi Kim Ngoc, ‘
Con Oee’, 2015, video and sound installation. Image courtesy the artist.

‘Mien Meo Mieng’ translates into English as ‘the land of distortion’. The phrase refers to freedom of expression in Vietnam and the necessity to distort one’s use of language to hide true meanings. The Vietnamese saying “roll your tongue seven times before speaking” is the thematic origin of the exhibition.

Vu Hong Ninh, '
Little Soap Boy', 2009/2015, soap sculpture on podium. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Vu Hong Ninh, ‘
Little Soap Boy’, 2009/2015, soap sculpture on podium. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

As the press release for the exhibition explains:

Caution, consideration and contortion are required in order to express one’s opinion in Vietnamese society, a reality with origins in the country’s history. A serious and critical message is often hidden behind a seemingly innocent and sometimes humorous statement.

Nguyen The Son, '
The Stories of 16 Coffee Tables', 2015. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Nguyen The Son, ‘
The Stories of 16 Coffee Tables’, 2015. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Tran Tuan, '
Forefinger', 2013/2015. Image courtesy the artist. 
Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Tran Tuan, ‘
Forefinger’, 2013/2015. Image courtesy the artist. 
Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Reflections on Vietnam

The exhibition features the work of 14 artists born between the 1970s and 1980s and currently based in Vietnam. Through a wide range of media, from painting, drawing and sculpture, to video and installation, the artists engage with issues as diverse as the aftermath of war, freedom of expression, economic conditions, migration and the general vulnerability of Vietnamese society. The works on show are all recent, created in the past two years – and in some cases, especially for the exhibition.

Truong Cong Tung, '
Journey of a Piece of Soil' (videostill), 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

Truong Cong Tung, ‘
Journey of a Piece of Soil’ (video still), 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

Nguyen Manh Hung, '
Treasure', 2014, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy the artist.

Nguyen Manh Hung, ‘
Treasure’, 2014, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy the artist.

The artists, presented for the first time in Sweden, include:

Nguyen Phuong Linh, '
Sanctified Clouds' (detail), 2012/2015. Image courtesy the artist. 
Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Nguyen Phuong Linh, ‘
Sanctified Clouds’ (detail), 2012/2015. Image courtesy the artist. 
Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

One of the highlights, Nguyen Phuong Linh’s Sanctified Clouds (2012/2015) is a wall installation of a series of photographs printed on porcelain. The artist collected more than 200 images from the Internet, cropping off the landscapes and violent scenes and leaving only the dust and smoke of explosions and war. The fragile beauty of the porcelain contrasts with the violent yet poetic images.

Nguyen Tran Nam, 'We Never Fell', 2010/2015. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

Nguyen Tran Nam, ‘We Never Fell’, 2010/2015. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Mikael Lundgren.

In We Never Fell (2010/2015), Nguyen Tran Nam challenges the idea that human existence is fragile, by demonstrating the strength of human resilience and tenacity. The fibreglass human figures – representations of the artist and his family – stand on spherical supports and symbolise the struggle to adapt to fast-paced social changes. When set off balance by interaction, the sculptures bounce back to their upright positions, never falling, never failing to recover – a metaphor for the resilience of the Vietnamese people.

Nguyen Trinh Thi, '
Unsubtitled', 2010/2014, video installation. Image courtesy the artist. 
Photo: Jamie Maxtone-Graham.

Nguyen Trinh Thi, ‘
Unsubtitled’, 2010/2014, video installation. Image courtesy the artist. 
Photo: Jamie Maxtone-Graham.

In Nguyen Trinh Thi’s video installation Unsubtitled (2010/2014), a community of artists and cultural workers participate in a performance, where the act of eating is used as a metaphor to question the artists’ rights to freedom of expression and a peaceful existence. The haunting noise of chewing and the tentative manner in which the food is consumed add a coded layer of interpretation to the performance while also highlighting the artificiality of a community under surveillance.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Vietnamese artists, sculpture, installation, video, painting, museum exhibitions, picture feasts, events in Sweden

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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