Vomit Girl Beyond Diasporic Trauma: Interconnecting Contemporary Art and Folkloric Practices in Vietnam
In 2008,my artwork Phở Dog was condemned by respected spokespersons in the Vietnamese diasporic communityas ‘communist propaganda.’ As an Australian artist of Vietnamese descent, I learnt my father’s native tongue as a young adult during my time in the north of the country. Later I would be criticised for speaking with a ‘communist accent.’ These formative experiences became the departure point for Vomit Girl Beyond Diasporic Trauma, a practice-based research project that examines how acculturated intergenerational trauma gives rise to binary identities and fixed narratives that prevent meaningful reconnection with ‘homelands.’ This research project proposes that contemporary art can draw from folkloric strategies to open up spaces for suppressed, hidden, and new stories to emerge beyond diasporic trauma.
The project begins with a revisit to my 1994 encounters with ‘village arts’ on the river plains of northern Vietnam. Close studies of artefacts, specifically đình woodcarvings, and the rich cultural and spiritual life of the village reveal folkloric practices as the key to this project’s analysis of continuously evolving grassroots resilience. Within the context of the resurgence of popular religion in Vietnam today, my research project considers how these cultural expressions of spiritual resistance can inform a creative strategy that decolonises trauma and reconnects with Vietnam. By intersecting contemporary art with folkloric practices, and drawing from Jill Bennett’s empathic vision, Griselda Pollock’s insight into the colonising power of trauma, and Bracha Ettinger’s artworking method, my decolonising strategy aims to both disarm the colonising power of trauma, and rewrite the trauma caused by social, cultural, and political colonisation.
This practice-based research delves deep into folkloric practices and creative strategies employed by Vietnam-based contemporary artists Đặng Thị Khuê, Phi Phi Oanh, Nguyễn Bảo Toàn, and Nguyễn Khắc Quân, to create a new body of work, The Vomit Girl Project: Vigit-Worana-Doba. My artworks transform the earthy mộc mạc aesthetics of woodcarvings into naked clay sculptures of Vomit Girl, the central figure of these previously hidden stories and a celebration of marginality. The transfiguration of Phở Dog into Vomit Girl constitutes and contributes to my creative decolonising strategy. This new body of work and my exegetical investigation suggest that interconnecting contemporary art with folkloric practices in Vietnam can offer a space where cultural heterogeneity, marginalised narratives, and open-ended political modes of subjectivity can coexist and thrive.
Mai Nguyễn-Long 2022 March