Curator Boitran Huynh-Beattie has a story for each of the 25 artists
taking part in a major new exhibition exploring the aftermath of the
One of them, Le Tri Dung, is a former Vietcong soldier who trained as
an artist at Hanoi's art school before the war.
After being conscripted as a NVA tank diver he became a war
correspondent and soldier-artist.
Boitrain had seen his work in Vietnam, including in the National Fine
Art Museum in Hanoi. One of his paintings, The Same Pain for Both
Sides, depicted the effect of the war on soldiers from both sides.
But the day the painting was exhibited in a government museum, it was removed.
"They couldn't stand his valuing of both sides equally," Boitran said.
Le Tri Dung has been invited to the Casula Powerhouse in Sydney's
west for the exhibition, Nam Bang! which opens in April to do a
site specific artwork.
In his painting about the soldiers, he also shows a deformed baby,
while the colour of the panting is mainly orange.
Boitran said before people realised the connection between defoliants
such as Agent Orange used by the Americans during the war and
deformities, Vietnamese families were considered to have "bad karma"
when such a child was born.
"In some ways Vietnamese artists started to think and see the war
independently from the government point of view and we tried to
incorporate the views into our exhibition," Boitrain said.
The Vietnam War or as the Vietnamese call it the American War - had
a huge impact on all those involved and Nam Bang! attempts to analyse this.
It looks particularly at the effect of the war on a second
generation, with a combination of works by Vietnam veteran artists,
those whose fathers were veterans and some who have no personal
background in the war but nevertheless were still affected.
A Vietnamese academic, Boitran is married to a Vietnam veteran, Ray
Beattie, who is also an artist with work in the exhibition. She came
to Australia in 1995 to do a graduate diploma in Art History at
Monash University and later a PhD from the University of Sydney.
The project is the third stage of two previous Casula Powerhouse
exhibitions Viet Nam Voices (1997) and Viet Nam Voices and the Viet
Nam War National Tour (2001-2003).
The war divided Australia and changed the national social structure,
While it's 34 years since the end of the war, it still remains a
psychological scar in the West, with obvious comparisons to the
current war in Iraq.
"This exhibition is a declaration against the war," she said. "We
should not get involved in any war unnecessarily except when we have
to defend our country."
The project also aims to reconcile the differences between Vietnam
vets and the mainstream community.
"The Vietnam veterans when they came back from the war. . . they were
not welcomed by the government nor by the community because of the
unpopularity of the war," Boitran said.
One of the local artists, Nigel Helyer, has an acoustic installation
in the exhibition on loan from the National Gallery of Victoria
which makes strong comments on the absurdity of war.
Silent Forest is a series of four carousels of sirens based on air
raid sirens and 20 towers encapsulating bonsai trees linking the
ecological voids caused by the use of dioxin defoliants in the war,
with the "high culture of Western opera and the propaganda culture".
Helyer explained the bonsai trees are floating but their roots are
exposed in glycerine - "a bit like napalm".
"The American War used a lot of defoliants, Agent Orange being the
principal one," Helyer said. "It was really one of the first times
warfare turned its attention not simply to other military targets or
what's commonplace bombing civilian cities but the idea of
eradicating the environment.
"And so that was of particular interest to me. . . you attack the
environment but you leave a lasting trace in the genetics as well so
it's an ongoing kind of punishment in a community, which is what
we're seeing in Iraq."
Another artist is Van Thanh Rudd, (Kevin Rudd's nephew), who is also
the son of a veteran. It was the war that brought his parents together.
His work tries to "appeal to the common sense that we shouldn't
follow that way", Boitran said.
". . . he also looks at art outside the wall of the galleries. . . so
when he completed his paintings he carried them. . . he walked to the
Opera House once and he was stopped by the security guards.
"I asked him where he gets his political activism. Is that from your
uncle? And he just laughed."
Van Thanh Rudd will present his painting and a video of himself
carrying the painting around Liverpool and Melbourne.
The exhibition also looks at the refugees that left Vietnam many coming here.
"Up to 500,000 people perished at sea," Boitran said. "There was a
saying in Vietnam, if the electric poles had legs they would go overseas too."
And what about Vietnam today one of the booming countries of southeast Asia?
"I think that more than 50 percent of the population now was born
afer the war, so the old generation they might have. . .the pain and
loss but they want to move on, they don't want to look back.
"And the younger generation is so much attracted by materialism, by
consumerism that has been introduced by Vietnam by the reform policy
after 1986. But that is just the surface. . .you might find other
stories. . . (but) Vietnam just wants to be like another Singapore."