Under the Influence: A Traveling Library of Books that Inspire Artists
Artist: Tammy Nguyen
b.1984, San Francisco, CA
Lives and works in New York, NY
Book Title: The Color Curtain
Author: Richard Wright
This indispensable work urging removal of the color barrier remains one of the key commentaries on the question of race in the modern era. First published in 1956, it arose from Richard Wright’s participation in a global conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in April 1955. With this report of what occurred at Bandung Wright takes a central spot on the international stage and serves as a harbinger of worldwide social and political change. He exhorts Western nations, largely responsible for the poverty and ignorance in their former colonies, to destroy racial impediments and to work with the leadership of the new nations in moving toward modernization and industrialization under a free democratic system rather than under Communist totalitarianism. With this book, Wright became a precursor to the era of multiculturalism and an advocate for global transformation.
Tammy Nguyen: “I often struggle with what ‘community’ and ‘solidarity’ means in actual day-to-day practice. What happens when there are differences between you and someone else or another group and you can’t exactly empathize? extend your compassion? be so forgiving? This is why when I learned about the Bandung Conference of 1955, I was immediately intrigued. This little known historical artifact was the significant gathering of 29 African and Asian nations in Bandung Indonesia to denounce racism, colonialism, and nuclear war. How was it that all of these countries could gather to imagine a world not aligned to the West? In 1954, Richard Wright may have felt a similar surprise to me when he opened the newspaper in Paris to see the conference announcement. He quickly made plans to go and a year after the conference he published The Color Curtain, a memoir on his experiences there. This book is dense with confusion and emotional grappling. Mr. Wright noticed how much attention the Chinese Premier Chou En Lai was receiving. He had never really engaged with Eurasians before. He was dismayed by some of the leaders of African nations. He struggled to comprehend the value and importance of communism, and also the integration of religion and state. This book became the jumping off point for my recent collaboration with Adriel Luis, Lovely Umayam, Desirée Venn Frederic, Aerica Shimizu Banks, Erik Bruner-Yang, and Seda Nak, where we created an artist book and culinary experience which reflects on what Afro-Asian solidarity means today.”