Revisiting 1996 on 21 Jan 2013: E Chong: A Bilingual Installation with Incorrect Translations by Mai Nguyen-Long, National University of Fine Arts Gallery, Vietnam:
In 1994, disillusioned with life in Australia and the limitations of what I could learn about Vietnam there, I left my part time work with the Asian section of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and went to live in Hanoi. I studied intensive Vietnamese at Vietnam National University for 3 months and went on to study Vietnamese Art History in Vietnamese. I also joined life drawing classes side by side with the Vietnamese students at National University of Fine Arts (NUFA).
After a surprise invitation from Queensland College of Art (QCA) to study a Master of Arts in Visual Arts I ended up in Brisbane following my 12 months in Hanoi. I was studying art in Australia for the first time and simultaneously became a research assistant (and later guide & interpreter to the in-Australia guest artists) to the then Provost and Director Ian Howard in his curatorial role for Vietnamese artists at the 2nd Asia Pacific Triennial (APT2).
I agreed to return to Hanoi for 2 months early 1996, this time supported by QCA as the inaugural QCA-NUFA residency as well as the research assistant for Vietnam (for APT2). During that period I liaised with the selected APT artists but also worked on and presented a solo show at the NUFA Art Gallery. The work was called “E Chong: A Bilingual Installation with Incorrect Translations”. The show was launched by Australian Ambassador Susan Boyd.
The installation consisted of 4 parts: silk light boxes containing drawings by myself alongside drawings by artist friend Nguyen Minh Thanh, plastic bra bits and beer coasters; a central hanging piece constructed mainly of a child’s dress, toilet rolls and snails shells; suspended red banners with pseudo lacquer cardboard strips decorated with mixed media collage including cigarettes; and a floor piece including stuffed toy rabbits and fake jewels. The red banner section “Happy Little Vegemites” was acquired by the Australian Embassy in Hanoi courtesy SMEC International. NUFA students and staff said they had never seen anything like it and that it was the first installation they had experienced in Hanoi.
Returning to QCA I was desperate to paint. But found myself necessitated to write and talk about art far more than I could ever have anticipated. I was picked up by Bellas Gallery and soon after moved to Sydney which I felt was a more international city. Having only lived for 3 years of my adulthood in Australia before ‘fleeing’ to China, I found life again confronting. To address this issue I determined to give Australia more of a chance. This seemed to require systematically weaning Asia out of me; or re-contextualizing experiences such as this one. The 2013 publication of (my Mother) Kerry Nguyen-Long’s ‘Arts of Vietnam 1009-1945’ has inspired me to revisit this memory.
*”E Chong” = Vietnamese term meaning “unable to find a husband”.
See page 35 for mention: Vietnamese Contemporary Art 1990-2010 by Bui Nhu Huong & Pham Trung, Knowledge Publishing House, Hanoi 2012; Extract: VietnameseContemporaryArt1990_2010
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