Color is nowhere to be found in the physicality of all things known in the universe, yet when one sees a thing one perceives its color. Similarly, there is no path to cross traffics in Vietnam. Such path opens for whoever crossing it.
Imminently is how we, the art community, navigates contemporary Vietnam with its central authority.
Take censorship. Every public event (meaning more than 5 people gathering in a publicly accessible venue) requires licensing, which asks the organizer to submit an exact script of the event and its main guests to the cultural bureau days in advance, plus a statement on how the work contributes to social values. This is indeed a problem for newer forms of performances that involve various degrees of improvisation and interpretations of values. Some such events do not get licensed. But then the organizers get creative. Exact script? Only the non-improvising part, done. Social value? Yes the work promotes doing good for others so that everyone is happy, checked.
We inch forward.
From the side of the street, it might look like a maze. Not just censorship, of which we have acquired the taste, the general image of Vietnam seems to have frozen in the eyes of many western beholders. One of the biggest digital populations worldwide1, we still get asked if there’s internet in the country - yes, and it’s free in many coffee shops. Decades after the last battle, “war” still seem to be the hottest subject from afar (we do partly blame Hollywood and recently Netflix) so much so that the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City remains in the top 100 global destinations via top search engines like Google and TripAdvisor. Many visual artists are tuning the lens on this monochromic take: Dinh Q. Lê with his photo weaving and installations on the Vietnam-American war, Tuan Andrew Nguyen with his film series on the soldiers of the Indochine conflict, Bang Nhat Linh speaking of the aftermath of the country unification, etc…. And the traffic opens.
1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/262966/number-of-internet-users-in-selected-countries/ accessed 17th August 2023
Tra Nguyen is former Acting Director of Sàn Art, the longest-running independent art space in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). Since 2018, Tra Nguyen initiated ‘The Run – A Theater Project’, seeking to build infrastructure for experimental theater-making. Her theater works and workshops engage various elements of theater, performance, and visual art to explore the possibilities of performances. She will be a Visiting Faculty for an introductory class on Theater and Performance at Fulbright University in Autumn 2023.