Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue

When 15 Mar 2019 - 2 Sep 2019
Where Smithsonian American Art Museum
Eighth and F Streets N.W.
Washington, DC 20004
United States

Artist Lecture with Tiffany Chung: May 2, 6pm
Returns, Refugees, and Refusal: Art, War Memory, and the Politics of Representation with Việt Lê: May 23, 6pm

Internationally acclaimed artist Tiffany Chung (b. 1969, Đà Nẵng, Viet Nam) is known for her multimedia work that explores migration, conflict, and shifting geographies in the wake of political and natural upheavals. Chung’s new exhibition, Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue, probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath through maps, videos, and paintings that highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees. Through this work, Chung documents accounts that have largely been left out of official histories of the period and begins to tell an alternative story of the war’s ideology and effects. A centerpiece of the exhibition is a new series of video interviews with former Vietnamese refugees in Houston, Texas; Southern California; and Northern Virginia that was commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Vietnam, Past Is Prologue is on view from March 15 through September 2. The exhibition is organized by Sarah Newman, the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art. The museum is the sole venue for this exhibition. The installation is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975 that is on view at the same time.

Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue makes visible a history hidden in plain sight for the past forty-five years. Her subject, the War in Vietnam (1955–1975), has achieved a nearly mythic significance in the United States. In Vietnam, “the War” devastated life as it had been known, dividing time into a “before” and “after.” Yet missing from the narratives told by these two sides is the perspective of the South Vietnamese, on whose behalf the Americans entered the war.

Through meticulously drawn and stitched maps, emotional interviews, and intensive archival research, Chung explores the experience of refugees who were part of the large-scale immigration during the post-1975 exodus from Vietnam. She begins with a fine-grained look into one person’s story—that of her father, who fought for the South Vietnamese military during the war; widens out to encompass the stories of former refugees from Vietnam; and pulls out further still to show the global effects of their collective migration in the war’s wake.

The exhibition is presented in three galleries. A single work, Remapping History: an autopsy of a battle, an excavation of a man’s past (2015/2019), in which Chung diagrams her father’s story with thirteen handmade maps, archival materials, photographs, and texts, is installed in a single gallery. A second gallery includes 21 interviews shown on 12 video monitors and Recipes of Necessity (2014), a video that captures a conversation among Vietnamese who stayed in Vietnam following the war interspersed with scenes of a dance inspired by their stories that is choreographed and directed by Chung. A third gallery displays two handmade maps, reproductions of UN archival documents, as well as 15 watercolor paintings from The Vietnam Exodus History Learning Project—a collaboration with Hồ Hưng, Huỳnh Quốc Bảo, Lê Nam Đy, Nguyễn Hoàng Long, Đặng Quang Tiến, Phạm Ái, Võ Châu, and Hoàng Vy.

The museum has published an illustrated essay by Newman that will be available in the exhibition galleries.

Public Programs
The museum will screen Chung’s recent video work paired with Trinh T. Minh-ha’s documentary Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) as part of the “Women Directors Film Festival: Visionaries Then and Now” on Saturday, March 30.

Chung will give the museum’s annual James Dicke Contemporary Artist Lecture Thursday, May 2, at 6pm.

Newman and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, curator and historian at the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center, discuss the lasting impact of the Vietnam War on Southeast Asian Americans Thursday, May 9, at 6pm as part of the museum’s gallery talk series “Double Take: One Artwork Two Viewpoints.”

Artist and writer Việt Lê offers his perspective on contemporary art and the legacy of the Vietnam War in a talk titled “Returns, Refugees, and Refusal: Art, War Memory, and the Politics of Representation” Thursday, May 23, at 6pm.

Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Michael Abrams and Sandra Stewart, Carolyn Small Alper Exhibitions Fund, Aida Alvarez, Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, Maureen and Gene Kim, Jack and Marjorie Rachlin Curatorial Endowment, and the Share Fund.

Image courtesy of the organizer.

For more information please click here.