Of course I have changed my mind, …
Instead of looking into Textiles in public spaces, using Tipi structures in neo travelers/festival folk, I have decided to go with an exhibition I saw last year by an amazing young Vietnamese Artist called Vo Tran Chau, Chau is her first name.
See Exhibition here:
Lingering at the peculiar pavilion
Finding research on her work was next to impossible, as there are no art reviews written about her, which is such a shame. The brief for the Essay was to find primary source information, so I emailed Chau.
I’m so sorry for my late reply, I’m little busy in this time. I hope this email still useful for your paper.
Are there many descendants of the Nguyen Dynasty still living in Vietnam? How did you find them?
Yes, still have many descendants of Nguyen Dynasty living in Vietnam, special is Hue (a city in the central Vietnam that was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors). Just only all descendants of Bao Dai are in France.
I have some artist friends living in Hue, I ask them about descendants, then they introduced their old teacher in Hue of fine art university. He is the first descendant I met, I became his friend after some meetings. You know, the first man is the point, then he introduced to me a lot of descendants around him in Hue and Saigon, and everything became easier for me to meet, talk, and interview with descendants of Nguyen Dynasty.
How did they feel about giving you their clothing, did they understand the art you were trying to create?
I think some of them understand what I did, special are young people, some of them not really understand, sometimes they afraid of a little bit, but they still give me their clothes willingly. And some of them don’t care about my art or what I said 🙂
How do they feel about their royal lineage being erased? Are they rich, or just normal, like most Vietnamese?
Not easy to tell about how they feel, but most of them are regret about their royal lineage being erased. They are still think what the royal did is being friend with French is right and they regret that Com.munist came and erased their royal. But most of young people don’t care about the history and their royal lineage, now they live like normal Vietnamese.
They are not rich. Some of them are normal, some of them are poor. I started to research about Nguyen Dynasty when I read about their poor life on newspaper, and I also met a poor guy in Saigon, he is a grandson of 10th King of Nguyen Dynasty, he is security guard for a small hotel and homeless.
Did they see the exhibition?
No, they don’t, this’s sad. Because most of them living in Hue, but I didn’t have opportunity to exhibit in Hue. Some old guys in Saigon are busy and not really care about the exhibition.
Do you feel like Vietnam’s rich (yet confusing) history is being lost, or forgotten, and do you think many young Vietnamese feel the same? Do most people only want to look forward, in your opinion, because of the hardship Vietnam has endured through many wars?
Yes, I think Vietnam’s history is being lost because many young people don’t care about history so much. First, they feel boring with the history they learn in their school (the history was remade and make up). Second, many money value was come in from outside and made they run to the money value, they become listless with the Vietnamese heritage.
Yes, they don’t want to look back to their hardship life in the wars. They just try to earn more money 🙂
Do you think people still today harvest bad feeling towards the Nguyen Dynasty and Bao Dai?
Yes, because that is what they heard from their teachers at their school and other people around them, this is a reason that the descendant life is harder than normal people now.
In socialism, there is no place for Emperors and royalty. Although Bao Dai wanted peace and unity for his people, do you think he was a bad leader and made bad decisions, ex. working with the French? Do you think he and his family should have had a place in Vietnam, or is it right that they have been exiled to France? (This one maybe a hard question to answer).
It’s hard to say that Bao Dai was a bad leader and made bad decisions, because in that time, he didn’t have power and he had no choice, he is just a scarecrow.
I can say should or shouldn’t in this case. I just tell you that Vietnam don’t have Bao Dai street, Khai Dinh street (his father) or Dong Khanh street (his grandfather).
I think the work you have created is so important in looking back at the story of Vietnam. Hue is so saturated in history, do you feel like the Vietnamese people still appreciate it as a place, or is it being forgotten?
I think Vietnamese people still appreciate Hue, where they can visit like tourists 🙂 I think Hue is still an important place for Vietnamese to look back the history, although most of them just care about superficies of it.
You use so much symbolism in your art, is this because it is difficult to openly talk about? There are many layers to the meanings and truths you were trying to express, was there anything you wanted to say, but felt like you couldn’t?
I’m an artist, I’m not a history writer ^^ I made artworks about history, I don’t want tell about Vietnamese history like a writer. I hope the viewers can take their time to stand in front of my artworks to think more about the history, the moving of the time… in their experiences. Because, you know, the history sometimes is blur, you don’t know the truths clearly if someone remake it, you just can read many ways for an subject, then use your experiences to judge.
You said ‘The tremendous effort of those currently in power has and continues to erase these people’s past, rendering their images blurry and patchwork-like, akin to their family history,” Can you give me any references to back up this statement?
I knew this informations from some Vietnamese channels and what the descendants told me, they are not convenient to give you, so sorry.
I don’t have any review for my exhibition from art writer, sorry.
I also want to apologise that I just answer your questions like this, because it is not convenient to write deeper in email.
I also wanted to get some background information on the History of the Nguyen Dynasty, and in particular, Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam. I did read a few history books found on the UCA Online Library, but the were more an account of days and evens, rather than opinion or anything of interest.
I decided to go straight to the source of a man called Tim Dooling, who I’ve heard so much about since living in Saigon, reading his accounts of Old Saigon, on his very well researched website called Historic Vietnam.
He was again, very kind to answer my questions.
I’m a resident of Saigon, studying a BA in Art Textiles from the Open College of Art in the UK. I am writing a paper on a show I attended last year, by a talented young artist called Vo Tran Chau –see here http://san-art.org/exhibition/lingering-at-the-peculiar-pavilion/
The show has brought up many questions about the Nguyen Dynasty and in particular Bao Dai, being the last Emperor, ending that chapter of Vietnamese History. I’ve had a look through a few articles about Bao Dai on your site, and to be honest, I am finding it very challenging researching in Vietnam – there are a distinct lack of books written in English on the subject other than history books.
I was hoping to get a clearer insight into how Vietnamese today see their history associated with the Nguyen Dynasty, which was under-pinned by the French and Chinese. Are there still ill feeling associated with Bao Dai and the Royal family, or are younger people interested in their countries heritage and find it confusing and unclear?
In her exhibition, Chau says
“Water-image” is created from sowing together pieces of clothing of the Nguyễn descendants, who are like portraits without numbers. The tremendous effort of those currently in power has and continues to erase these people’s past, rendering their images blurry and patchwork-like, akin to their family history. In a way, their story reflects society: that same blurriness unfortunately coincides with contemporary culture as some things (tangible or not) are packed with a “heritage” label and others tremble and shiver under uncertain, unappreciative hands.
I was hoping to find some evidence to support this statement in my paper, would you know of any examples I could use?
I know you are a very busy man, and I appreciate you taking this time to read my questions. If you could point me in any directions, via papers or websites, or even your own academic opinion, anything at this point would be incredible helpful in understanding this interesting, yet important aspect of Vietnamese History.
Thanks for your message.
Perhaps to a certain extent what she says is valid. The school history curriculum still focuses almost exclusively on the history of the revolution, so few young people would know a great deal about the dynasty other than its connection with French oppressors, and the “heroism” of the so-called “rebel” emperors Hàm Nghi, Thành Thái and Duy Tân, who refused to be part of the system. Only in recent years has it become possible to discuss the history of the dynasty in more balanced terms, and to show for example that far from being a revolutionary hero, Thành Thái was actually a violent psychopath, while rather than being active revolutionaries, both Hàm Nghi and Duy Tân were largely victims of circumstance. With Bảo Đại, I don’t think any ill feeling exists, but the popular perception of him as a playboy is probably accurate, although it fails to take into account his earlier life. He began his reign with many good intentions and much promise, but he was eventually ground down by the French who thwarted him at every turn, preventing him from introducing any real reform. In the end there was nothing for him to do but to retire into a life of indolence, which is how he is remembered today.
In my new guidebook on Huế (published next month) I have devoted a lot of space to the earlier Nguyễn lords who originally built up the dynasty, they remain almost unknown to the general public even today. Some see parallels between their territorial borders and those of the Republic of VN, between their war with the Trịnh and the N-S Second Indochina War.
The Party also has a paradoxical relationship with the Nguyễn dynasty, which is officially frowned upon as feudalism – yet at the first Emperor Gia Long’s tomb in Huế, still ignored by mass tourism, you will often find very high-ranking state delegations paying deferential visits. Some say that tourism here has been purposely limited at this site with a view to maintaining it first and foremost as an official preserve.
As for the last sentence of the quote from the exhibition, I wonder if I am understanding it correctly if I interpret it as referring to things which some would regard as heritage but are still too “sensitive” to be discussed openly. If so, I think that things are now changing so rapidly that what was taboo yesterday is often no longer so today. Witness for example the new exhibition on the Ngô Đinh Diệm family which opened recently at the Independence Palace, introducing topics which were completely forbidden just a few years ago. As for the intangible, I recall that back in the early 2000s many traditional beliefs were dismissed as superstition, but that’s long since ceased to be the case. Of course, censorship still exists and is much more prevalent in Vietnamese than in English (my publisher has told me that I can say some things in English but it’s “too early” to say them in Vietnamese) – but the limits of what can be discussed in print and in public continue to be pushed back.
I hope this is helpful, I’m not altogether clear what kind of examples you are looking for but please feel free to come back to me further.
Going straight to the source of information is where it’s at when researching with a distinct lack of books, magazines, and popular opinions, when living in a socialist country as an expat, this it what this assignment has far taught me.