A Report from Vietnam’s Art Scene

NOTE: I’ve been out of commission for a few days due to laptop madness but I’m glad to report that I’m back and itching to blog.

justinsaigon01.jpgI caught up with a longtime friend and neighbor from the bodacious borough of Brooklyn, Justin B. {via Facebook} and discovered that the one time resident of Lagos, Madrid, New York, and most recently Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has chosen to move on to Osaka to build a new nest.

A connoisseur of the creative and a subversive personality in general, I took the opportunity to email Justin and get the skinny on Vietnam’s culture scene.

Why did you choose to move to Saigon?
I must have been out of my mind or feeling nostalgic and slightly violent. I guess the RNC 2004 pushed me over the edge.

requiemforawallphanumthucha.jpgWhat were your first impressions and how have they changed?
At first I thought it was paradise, then I discovered it was Disneyland.

What is the art scene like in Saigon or Vietnam in general?
The art scene is dead, except for expat fantasies.

Who are some of the major artists in the scene?
Outsiders mostly, who come in to the playground. The major gallery had to drop “Vietnamese” from its title due to a lack of local artists. Cash, not creativity, is king in Saigon.

Tell me a little about some artworks you’ve created or been involved with, including that sleep project (Magma) that was webcast?
Magma was an effort by Sue Hadju, who along with Motoko Uda runs “A little Blah, Blah…” They are perhaps the real power house pushing creativity in Saigon but mostly by hosting foreign visiting curators and artists. I embed myself in other people’s shows, generally providing some kind of peripheral service and then hijack the implementation a little. My artistic efforts are based on interventions, situations and disruptions, mostly in an effort to force the audience to stop taking themselves so seriously and take the work seriously by recognizing they are viewers and participants, that they are part of the work.

Are there institutions that support the arts in Vietnam?
ALBB (A little Blah Blah), Gallery Quynh, and Wonderful District.

Are there any limits for artistic freedom of expression?
Oh yeah. Everything has to pass through the censor, who of course knows nothing about art.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest obstacles the Vietnamese art world faces?
Greed, greed, greed, a complete lack of interest in creativity outside of profits. A complete lack of interest in art by the youth. A consumer culture with no interest in creative production.

Is there any local interest in the art being produced in their country? How does the media cover it? Does the government get involved?
The media is censored. Fortunately, the government has little interest in art as long as it stays in foreign circles. Because of the censorship what little art there is remains a private matter for people with means.

What is the legacy of communist social realism in Vietnam, if any?
It sells well to tourists who love to pay silly amounts for viet-kitch.

In your opinion, what is the future of the art in Vietnam?
Vietnam is developing its consumer culture and won’t have a creative/counter culture for another decade. The government remains uninterested and unconcerned. Interested artists should check back in about 10 years or focus on ethnic-chic documentation.

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One response to “A Report from Vietnam’s Art Scene

  1. kudos to he interviewer and interviewee. informative and entertaining.

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