ArticlePDF Available

Queer art in Vietnam: From closet to pride in two decades


Abstract and Figures

Male and female artists in Vietnam from the early 1990s to the new millennium have contributed art that gives visibility to non-normative lifestyles that go against the traditional values espoused by national rhetoric. This article explores some of the first manifestations of queer art in contemporary Vietnam, outlining a short history of artworks that may be considered “queer” because of their subject matter, irrespective of whether they were made by straight or queer identified artists. Many of these artworks are not made in traditional media, or they break conventions in the local artistic canon. Frequently they have performative characteristics, an art form that arose in Vietnam in the 1990s, the beginning of the timeframe explored here. Photography, another medium not long or firmly established, is also extensively employed. The narrative attends specifically to the dissidence, in content or format, of selected artworks, and points to a correlation over time to an increased tolerance of homosexuality. This article is published as part of a thematic collection on gender studies.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Received 31 Dec 2015 |Accepted 11 Mar 2016 |Published 19 Apr 2016
Queer art in Vietnam: from closet to pride in
two decades
Cristina Nualart1
ABSTRACT Male and female artists in Vietnam from the early 1990s to the new millen-
nium have contributed art that gives visibility to non-normative lifestyles that go against the
traditional values espoused by national rhetoric. This article explores some of the rst
manifestations of queer art in contemporary Vietnam, outlining a short history of artworks
that may be considered queerbecause of their subject matter, irrespective of whether they
were made by straight or queer identied artists. Many of these artworks are not made in
traditional media, or they break conventions in the local artistic canon. Frequently they have
performative characteristics, an art form that arose in Vietnam in the 1990s, the beginning of
the timeframe explored here. Photography, another medium not long or rmly established, is
also extensively employed. The narrative attends specically to the dissidence, in content or
format, of selected artworks, and points to a correlation over time to an increased tolerance
of homosexuality. This article is published as part of a thematic collection on gender studies.
DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 OPEN
1Department of Art History (Contemporary Art), Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 | 1
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Although in Sliwinskas opinion queer culture is entwined
with art and visual culture, research on queer art1is still
scarce (Sliwinska, 2013: 809). In one of the few books that
overview the intersection of both topics, Art and Homosexuality,
Reed (2011) examines a broad span of artworks and artists from
around the world, sometimes going back millennia, to discuss the
changing nature of ideas about homosexuality and its acceptance
in the various societies he researches. His dissection of
geographical and historical contexts bolsters his theories on the
meaning and relevance of the selected artworks.
Reeds expansive text includes some commentary on Japan and
Polynesia, but offers no accounts from Southeast Asia. This
research gap was addressed by curator Lenzi in her paper How
Queer Translates in Southeast Asian Contemporary Art(2015), a
nuanced application of queer analysis to a number of artworks that
often do not explicitly reference homosexualityif they refer to it
at all. Lenzi explores both the paradigms of queerness in the region,
as well as the question of how art made locally by openly queer
artists can operate to some degree as an act of protest from
societies under autocratic rule. In non-normative artistic creations
she nds striking examples of acts of resistance, which subtly mask
sociopolitical topics that cannot be overtly discussed in their
country of origin. As stated by the author, the paper makes the
general assumption that art by queer regional artists is generally
contestative(Lenzi, 2015: 12), and although the ndings support
such a conclusion in that enriching study, Nora Taylor, via a
different scenariothat of performance artreminds us to
maintain critical distance. Taylor (2009) is cautious about histories
that reduce performance to an offshoot of contemporary art, or
that approximate performance and marginality.
Lenzis background in law glimmers through her careful
analysis, concurring with Aronson (1999) that homosexuality has
been less well tolerated in Vietnam than elsewhere in Southeast
Asia. Aronson (1999: 204) studies legal codes from ancient to
contemporary, observing that the absence of laws against
homosexuality in Vietnam reied its invisibility in the public
realm and served to deny the possibility of its existence.He
sweeps through other historical sources to track down accounts
from travellers and missionaries of the past, dating from the
1600s, that generally suggest that throughout the ages, unlike its
neighbours, the land now known as Vietnam condemned
homosexuality. Things are not too different in the twenty-rst
century. Until the year 2000 it was illegal for gay couples to live
together, and homosexuality is still frowned upon, in part because
it was only removed from the ofcial mental illness list in 2001
(Mann, 2014). Newton (2012), in her ethnography of female
homosexuality in Vietnam, examines its growing community
lexicon and three-part lesbian gender system. Navigating the
rapid changes in this complex scene, she points out the
mechanisms that render it a community that does not exist
in the eyes of society at large (Newton, 2012: 61). For Newton
(2012) and Rydstrøm (2006) sexual activity has been considered a
social evil(te
ˆi) even in Vietnams recent history,
placing a stigma most heavily on women (Schuler et al., 2006).
In summary, the literature suggests that legal and social
constructs had historically obscured homosexuality in Vietnam,
to a degree that caused it to be thought of as non-existent or a
foreign behaviour that did not occur among Vietnamese people.
Photographer Maika Elan (WPP, 2013) and writer Bui Anh Tam
(Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, 2004) provide eloquent accounts of
how negative media portrayals of gay people prompted them
to investigate the topic and develop creative works to combat ill-
informed stereotypes. Their work and recent changes in
legislation are helping to diminish homophobia. Same-sex
marriage is not contemplated by law, but the ban on celebrating
same-sex wedding ceremonies has been lifted, and as from 2017
the civil code will permit the gender reassignment of transgender
people (Anh Vu and Khanh An, 2015).
In parallel to this changing social order, the art panorama
manifested tensions of its own, which will be summarized below.
Beginning with the premise that homosexuality existsin Vietnam,
seeing that it now has a mention in the countrys legal history, this
article places the conicting subjectivities surrounding cultural
norms, the legal framework, artistic innovation and media biases in
relation to art production. Focusing on representations of identity
around the practices and pleasures that in the 20th century became
known as homosexual’” (Oeld, 2005), this discussion takes a
contained approach that knowingly leaves out some well-known gay
artists yet includes the work of straight-identied ones. To unravel a
schematic chronology of nation-specic queer art, the examples nd
common ground, as in Reeds book, in their capacity to place
homosexuality in the foreground.
Art as resistance
The existence of civil society in Vietnam is questionable (Lenzi,
2015), but activism can manifest in many forms, and art has
opened doors for challenging social norms. Pham Vinh Cu (cited
in Nguyen Quan, 2015) believes that from the onset of the
twentieth century, the arts in Vietnam became much more
relevant than ever they had been in the countrys past. For him,
Vietnams literary production of the rst half of the century is a
milestone in national culture, yet he considers the visual arts to be
the signicant players during the second half of the century.
Vietnamese writers working in the 1930s, intrigued by
characters in French literature who made choices regarding their
own fate, unhindered by familial expectations, began a debate
about individualism (Phinney, 2008). The discourse of the Tho
Moi poets and Tu Luc Van Doan (Self-Reliance Literature Group)
challenged some traditional values and paved the way for new
forms of self-expression in creative writing. Tran (2012: 376379)
recounts that French author Andre Gides homosexuality was an
open secret in Vietnam at the time, the 1930s, and explains some
oblique ways in which that fact appears in literature by
Vietnamese writers and led to the articulation of individual
desire that destabilized the established social order.
Tumultuous socioeconomic problems continued after the
VietnamAmerican war, and were even exacerbated by the
open doorpolicy (đô
́i) begun in Vietnam in 1986
(Drummond, 2006).
The impact of the infrastructural changes was felt principally
from the beginning of the 1990s. New provocations shook the
visual arts in this period, when Vietnamese artists, although
frequently with minimal awareness of contemporary art outside
the country (due to Vietnams closure from after the war to 1986),
began to question the production of state-sanctioned art and its
emphasis on socialist realism. Where possible, artists shared
hard-to-get information on art practices outside Vietnams
borders. Artist Do Hoang Tuong (b. 1960) recalls seeing French
art catalogues that his colleague Nguyen Trung (b. 1940) had
brought back from his long-desired visit to Paris in 1990. All we
knew were the books of Soviet art from the mid-twentieth
century, Do exclaimed (cited in Taylor, 2014: 35). Artist Hoang
Duong Cam (b. 1974) explains how as a teenager he copied by
hand texts from books that were banned from circulation that he
had secretly borrowed from family friends. In this underground
manner he and other artists learned about Dadaism, Picasso and
other avant-garde artists and movements excluded from the
ofcial art discourse (personal communication, 2014).
Throughout the 1990s, along with an inux of foreign art
buyers, new art galleries opened in Vietnam. With multicultural
2PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 |
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
exchanges from foreign practitioners coming into Vietnam and
some Vietnamese artists given the rare opportunity to visit other
countries, came the discovery, even if limited, of new art forms
beyond the picture plane and traditional media. Artist Thanh
Chuong enthused about the choices he now had: [in] the past, if
someone asked a painter to paint a picture, they told the artist
what to paint. () I can now do what I like and use my own
ideas. It is a good time for Vietnamese artists(cited in Findlay
and Hagemans, 1997).
1992 was a good example of the vitality that surged in the
Vietnamese artworld. According to art critic Ca Le Thang, 200
artists created 5,500 works that were shown across 25 venues and
seen by 400,000 visitors (Findlay and Hagemans, 1997). It was
also the year in which abstract art was permitted to hang in public
exhibitions, following a relaxation of state regulations,2although
government censorship would keep on restricting many forms of
self-expression, and continues to be exercised, along with cautious
self-censorship. Lenzi (2002) considers that the authorities in
post-Doi Moi Vietnam were quite tolerant of the visual arts, as
does Boitran Huynh (2005), who attributes a mild softening of
the Vietnamese governments vigilance of literature and art to the
inuence of Soviet perestroika.3Chiu and Genocchio (1996: 86)
maintain that visual artists were less censored than writers, but
document the severity of the problem and believe that Ofcial
censorship of artworks in Vietnam appears to be a relatively
recent and sporadic phenomenon. Huynh believes, however, that
writers were more vocal than visual artists in calling for reforms,
perhaps because the market for Vietnamese paintings was taking
off and the resulting commercial potential was a disincentive for
painters to change their successful formulas.
The arrival of an art boom in conjunction with newfound creative
freedoms sparked a heated debate about the nationscultural
heritage and artistic traditions. In the opinion of Nguyen Quan
(2015), when the art market took off in other Asian countries such
as Thailand, Indonesia or China, each country had already a dened
artistic identity, whereas in Vietnam no national iconography had
yet solidied. There had been an awkward artistic unication in the
year after 1975(Scott, 2015: 205), but historical north-south
differences did not vanish instantly. The artworld at this time was
not by any means a unied body on an ambitious mission to change
the paradigm, as Kraevskaia (2002) has synthesized.
Unsurprisingly, non-conventional images and the fresh
potential of installation and performance art were received with
mixed feelings, including denial that such pieces could be
considered art (Taylor, 2007).4However, forms like installation or
performance permitted an innovative form of dissent: abreachof
aesthetic rules(Radulovic, 2009: 192). Not short of contradictory
opinions, the local artworld questioned the artistic worth (as
opposed to commercial value) of paintings of, for example, idyllic
rural landscapes that were selling protably (Talawas, 2002; Nguyen
Quan, 2015). For Bui Nhu Huong (2009: 85) beautiful paintings of
the nation, or nice art, derive from an artistic history and a
tradition that few people grasp in full. In the face of rapid changes,
some perceived Vietnams past with a romanticizing glow. Taylors
(2007) interpretation of this profusion of countryside scenes,
dismissed by some as facile and commercial, is that these works
operate, for the most part, as allusions to Vietnams pre-communist
and pre-colonial past; in other words, they are subversive. With
such diverse methods of contesting established canons and
traditions, one can understand that this animated creative milieu
made way for novel artworks, and might be a conducive environment
for homosexuals to feel less pressured to remain in the closet.
Queer art in 1990s Vietnam: Truong Tan opens the closet
From this period, one of the rst artists able to leave Vietnam to
exhibit abroad was Truong Tan (b. 1963). Tan, who graduated in
1989, is the most widely known Vietnamese artist who is openly
gay. His work, which encompasses painting, sculpture, perfor-
mance art and installations, is a potent declaration for freedom of
expression. Since the early 1990s, his work explores social attitudes
by giving visibility to his sexual orientation (Kraevskaia, 2009).
In 1992, preparing for a group exhibition in the School of Fine
Arts of Hanoi, where Tan worked as a lecturer, he created a
painting called Circus (Fig. 1). This elongated work shows two
contorted, upside down gures, apparently male. The top one is
pushing one arm towards the space between the legs of the other
twisted character, whose ankles are tied up with a white rope
or sheet. The rope is a recurrent image in Tans paintings,
symbolizing the restrictions of Vietnams conservative socio-
political environment (Tsai, 2014). Tan considers this piece his
rst queer painting. My goal was decided, he says, explaining
that he was ready to make evident his homosexuality by showing
this work and to seriously develop his career as a professional
artist. He continued to draw homoerotic imagery, but he kept it
Figure 1 |Circus by Truong Tan (1992). Source: Photograph taken by
Truong Tan and reproduced with permission. This gure is covered by
the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.
PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 | 3
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
private for a time (personal communication, 2016). He tested the
waters at his rst solo show, in 1994, at the Ecole de Hanoi
gallery. In this exhibition, [representations of] men appeared all
over the place, he says (personal communication, 2016). Later
that year, Tan did an exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
that showed images of erect penises. The artist thinks this
imagery is what drove the authorities to start closely monitoring
his work, a surveillance that resulted in disquieting censorship the
following year (personal communication, 2016). Eighteen of
Tans artworks were taken down from the Cultural Collision
exhibition in Red River (Fleuve Rouge) gallery, Hanoi (Chiu and
Genocchio, 1996; Huynh, 2005). Promadhattavedi (1996: 36) has
observed that Tans homoerotic artwork is better received in the
West than in a society like Vietnam that frowns on individualism,
although in any country Truong Tans work would be daring.
By 1995, the international media was already describing Tan as
Vietnams only openly gay painter(Duffy, 1995: 50). Oeld (2005:
361) nds that “‘coming-outnarratives of homosexual/gay history
are often organized around key moments of transition.Tans
artistic coming outcan be said to have happened in a more
physical manner in 1994, in the form of a spontaneous act in his
home. To prepare for an exhibition, the artist had asked a few of his
students to help. They assisted in wrapping him up in a white sheet,
and tied it around him with rope. From 1994 Tan put ropes and
chains around his two-dimensional pieces, although he had started
collaging objects such as hair and mirrors to his paintings some
years earlier (Truong Tan, 2010). Tan had instructed his small team
to take photos of him as this living mummy, images that the artist
intended to collage onto some paintings (personal communication,
2016). Tan then removed the binding rope and cloth and emerged,
symbolically, as a free person (Taylor, 2009; Bui Nhu Huong and
Vietnamese contemporary art5(BuiNhuHuong,2010).Whilethis
event cannot be considered a formal artistic performance, perfor-
mance in Vietnam has its origins around the mid-1990s, with Tan
himself citing the year 1996 as the starting point (Truong Tan, 2010).
The rise of performance art in Vietnam
An artistic performance in 1995 by Amanda Heng, an artist
invited from Singapore to Hanoi (Radulovic, 2009), was
followed, from 1996, by performances by artists Nguyen Van
Cuong, Dao Anh Khanh and a collaboration between Tran Anh
Quan and Nguyen Van Tien (a.k.a. Tien Van Mieu).6Tan
embraced the new medium because, like him, it was alienated
from social norms, free from rules and canons (Huynh, 2005:
356). Though all public displays were subject to ofcial
regulations, performance art had built no local history from
which to construct evaluation criteria or judgments. Until the
end of the decade, performances would be uncommon events,
of an almost clandestine nature, that offered an alternative to
situating art within a gallery setting, which was more at risk of
beingprohibitedbytheDepartment of Information and
Culture (Taylor, 2007). Huynh sees a different challenge, and
a reason why performances do not attract much audience. She
nds that in traditional Vietnamese culture performance art
goes against a strong reluctance to publicly display the self
and the taboo of revealing the body(Huynh, 2005: 358).
Vietnamese performances developed quickly, if chaotically, and
had a profound impact on how art was perceived (Radulovic,
2009). By the late 1990s, a number of Vietnamese artists had
been invited to perform abroad, leading some young
Vietnamese artists to erroneously conclude that performance
art was contemporary art and vice-versa (Radulovic, 2009). The
subtleties of both the development and the place of
performance art in Vietnam are elaborated by Taylor (2009),
who discerns the differences in styles among the most relevant
practitioners. Curator Apinan Poshyananda celebrates performance
for its revitalizing capacity of providing novel perspectives on
social and cultural issues(cited in Lalwani, 2014: 108). By the year
2000, Poshyananda (2000) had seen a change across Southeast
Asias artwork, through the contributions of Asian artists to a
critical debate on postmodernism, new media and issues relating to
In 1996, Truong Tan, in collaboration with his student Nguyen
Van Cuong (b. 1972), executed what is considered one of the best
performances of this early period (Bui Nhu Huong and Pham
Thuong, 2012). Mother and Child, or Mother and Son, also
known as The Past and the Future according to Bui Nhu Huong
and Pham Thuong (2012: 16), was performed at the closing event
of an exhibition by Nguyen Minh Thanh at the government
sponsored gallery on 29 Hang Bai, Hanoi (Edwards, 1997). In this
10-minute event, Tan curled up on the oor, smeared with red
paint to look bloodied and rolled around tormented by Cuongs
broom, which swept Tan around. In Bui Nhu Huongs (2010: 80)
description of this piece, Tan represents a violent and war-
hungry red animal, whereas in another text Tan is metaphori-
cally a piece of rubbish, swept away by the man in a traditional
conical hat whose job is to clean up the past and sweep away old
dirt to prepare the way for something new (Bui Nhu Huong and
Pham Thuong, 2012). The confusion surrounding the title,7and
the ambivalent reading of the actions performed say a lot about
the enigmatic power of the piece. Political criticism in the work is
a plausible deduction, but the gender change of Nguyen Van
Cuong, who performs as mother, suggests a deeper queer
intention, symbolizing a scene where a homosexual son is
brushed aside and hidden away by the family gure that
represents the pillar of society. The spilt blood, in this case,
pours from the broken family ties, which are also a tie to the
community and therefore to the nation. It is signicant that the
motheris wearing a traditional conical hat8of the type widely
used in Vietnam, associated with tradition and the rural, which,
as we have seen, is a bone of contention in the Vietnamese
quandary on the characteristics of the nations art. This
performance, therefore, seems to put on the same scale the
countrys limited tolerance of homosexuality with the equally
poor acceptance of innovations in artistic themes and media.
Radulovic (2009) documents the offence and astonishment that
this performance caused, noticing how, on the one hand, it fed a
mistrust of new trends and their nancial (in)viability, and, on
the other, it challenged, reformulated and even reclaimed ideals of
artistic beauty, which until then had been the domain of the
cultural administration.
Queer art in Vietnam in the 2000s: homosexuality in the
public realm
Zhuang Wubin (2010) recounts the forked origins of photo-
graphy in Vietnam, determining that the rst local generation of
photographers in post-Doi Moi HCMC are a few practitioners,
born around 1950, able to break out of the self-taught tradition
that had been the norm in the post-1975 era. Findlay and
Hagemans (1997) reiterate parts of the narrative on Vietnams
own ne photographic past, observing that photography
exhibitions were becoming more frequent in the 1990s and that
photography was the most visible of new artistic developments.
An artist who has produced work that questions social
acceptance of homosexuality is photographer Ngo Dinh Truc
(b. 1973). How to whisper secretly in public?he asks in his
artist statement about his series The Same [Gender] (Cùng Gie
[Gender] p), from 2007 (Ngo Dinh Truc, 2015). In Vietnamese,
the phrase the same/the same onescan also mean the same gender.
4PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 |
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
The work is a selection of images with text on. Commercial
photos of luxurious interiors suggest an upscale lifestyle: a double
bed in a hotel room with a spectacular view, two wineglasses on a
table for three, an elegant bathroom with two urinals side by side,
an ofce with two identical desks side by side and so on. Ngo
Dinh Truc describes these photographs as neutralbecause they
derive from his commercial work as an interior photographer.
There are no people in the scenarios, leaving us to guess who uses
the double bed, drinks the wine or shares the ofce. Super-
imposed catchlines over the photographs translate as The same
[gender],The same ones/gender hang out together,the same
ones/gender have coupled up,The same order and discipline,
The same ones/gender are closeor The same ones/gender tuck
one another in, all of which in Vietnamese have an ambiguous
reading due to homonymy and word play. The texts over these
photographs in one sense could be interpreted as merely
descriptive, but the double meaning is intentional, designed to
provoke a reinterpretation of the idea of gender.
This queer art project is not a performance per se, but has a
performative element to its public presentation. Truc put colour
posters of these artworks on the streets of Hanoi and Saigon, and
handed out yers to passers-by. The intention was to elicit a
response from the community and to instigate a discussion on
gender and homosexuality. Curator Nguyen Nhu Huy (2009)
believes that this could be the rst instance where a Vietnamese
artist has used art to interact with the public space in such a way,
although he considers this intervention to be more akin to
activism than to an artistic performance. Nhu Huys enthusiasm
is directed towards the reach of this work, it reaches the general
public, not just the gallery-going public. This detail is what
prompts the curator to link this work to activism, an activity that,
since the Guerrilla Girls at least, can be ascribed to a number of
contemporary artworks all over the world.
When Huy talks of how this work affects the collective mind
(Nhu Huy, 2009: 92), he seems to inate how much this transient,
public imagery might impact the locus of societys moral
consensus, the place where ideologies that condemn homosexu-
ality are rooted. There are abundant ethnographic studies on
public space in Vietnam9that, following Taylors (2007) work,
could be worth analysing in relation to Huys intuition. On the
other hand, Huys call for impact measurement reminds us of
corporate practices in marketing. Trucs aesthetics borrow from
advertising. The photographs of perfect settings marked by a
slogan, once in the public realm, are interpreted within known
parameters. The audience is not destabilized by the medium,
which is recognized as part of the urban marketing clutter. The
familiar form of the street poster helps to make the message more
seductive. It can easily be overlooked, but it creates curiosity
without seeming too intrusive or unintelligible, something that
many other outdoor artworksor performancesmight do. The
effectiveness of the artwork, like that of a promotional campaign,
Huy posits, must be measured by its capacity to effect change,
even if subtle, in the viewer. Alas, no data collection was planned
into the art intervention, but Ngo Dinh Truc has created a
valuable exploration of the photograph as a vehicle that shifts
from commercial to artistic purposes.
Out and proud but hidden
Himiko Nguyen (Nguyen Kim Hoang, b. 1976) is not an artist
that one would call a photographer because of the multi-
disciplinary nature of her work, yet her photographic practice is
central to the artworks discussed next. Her photographs of female
bodies are worlds apart from the clichéd female beauties in
Vietnam that Abby Robinson (2006) has become fatigued with, easy
pictures where that which is important is immediately evident.
Himikos photographs of women from her series Closer (2007),
and Come Out (2011) and Come Out II (2014) are highly
innovative. By her own admission, she has tried to push the
boundaries by choosing the nude as a theme in a country where
naked images are not permitted (personal communication, 2015).
Aiming to reassure the general public that nudes are not equal to
pornography, these projects achieve two main things. On the one
hand, as she declares, these works chip away at some of the
prejudices that a national education insistent on condemning
social evilshas built up. On the other hand, they circuitously
present images of female desire, where there is no sexual object
because both photographer and subject have agency.
Whereas Truong Tans strategy of painting overtly sexual,
erotized nudes was his way of rejecting a dominant aesthetic that
stood as apolitical (Chiu and Genocchio, 1996: 89), Himiko
obscures eroticism by dramatically cropping or hiding the nudes,
creating images that are the opposite of blatant. This could be
interpreted as an emphasis on sensuality, or a method for
circumventing censorship, yet the strategy empowers the gaze by
authorizing it to examine attentively, to not lazily rely on
immediate, obvious impressions. In addition, it reects the
situation of being in the closet, of hiding ones private life.
The warm-tinted photographs from Closer depart from the
genre of portraiture and hint to the abstract, both by virtue of a
limited colour range and because they capture close ups or
unconventional angles and poses. The title, while describing the
eye/camera lensproximity to the glowing body, is a reminder of
the potential of art to draw people together in conversation. In
talking about her creative process, Himiko says that normal
concepts of the body are extinguished, when one gets closer it is
like language with no limit, no distinction(Nguyen Himiko,
2007, 2013). A queer reading of that sentence nds a discrete call
for social divisions to break down, helped by the common
language that can arise spontaneously from close interactions.
Distinct from Trucs public distribution of messages, Himikos
works seem to politely request that the public be more open to
think about homosexuality without judgment, merely observing
and accepting, as in meditation, a practice she engages in.
Himiko laments the unwritten rules and constraints that she
notices in Vietnamese society. Her work, she says, is about gender,
about the third sex in a very strict ()society(personal
communication, 2015). This third sexmay be a reference to
transgender or queer uidity, or to the three lesbian identities
discussed by Newton (2012). The constraints Himiko talks about
are evident to Newton, who has found lesbophobia to be a tool used
by the state to exert control, though she has seen an appropriation
of it on the part of the lesbian community to turn it upside down.
Come Out (Fig. 2) is an autobiographical project. Self-portraits
of the naked artist, often in a yoga pose, softly lit against a dark
background, are encased in black boxes mounted on the wall
like cupboards. Each box has a hole in the centre for the viewer
to look in. Upon pressing a light switch, the photograph inside
becomes visible. The visibility that the title itself calls for is thus
interactive. The coming out process requires the help of a viewer
who will switch on the light. Most importantly, the boxed
framing device has the commanding job of channelling the
viewers gaze to completely reverse the conventional power
structure gaze/nude.
The newer version, Come Out II, is larger in scale, a beehive of
black boxes, stacked and lined up occupying a whole room. The
inference of such a large work is that the action required to elicit a
coming out is now more social than individual. It takes a
collective to work together and bring light to a hidden issue. The
creation of these two versions, a few years apart, is hopefully a
welcome sign of the speed of changes in the public discourse on
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) issues.
PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 | 5
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Documenting the queer decade
Art, in many societies, is not a medium that reaches the masses.
This is the case in Vietnam, where the events and artworks
mentioned, although harbingers, have had a small impact on a
nation-wide scale outside artistic circles. A documentary project,
Pink Choice (2012), has been more successful in widely spreading
an anti-homophobic message. It comes from a sociologist turned
documentary photographer, Maika Elan (Nguyen Thanh Hai,
b. 1986). Pink Choice has had much media exposure following its
exhibition in Hanoi (2012) and due to it winning the 2013 World
Press Photo prize and other awards.
In 2011, Maika Elan realized that if she were gay, she would not
dare to come out because Vietnamese media portrayed homo-
sexuality as a tragic fatewith multiple negative connotations
(WWP, 2013). The black boxes in Himikos artistic critique are a
metaphor of this media bias, we realize. On her part, Maika also
encountered people who professed to be open-minded, but
reacted with disgust at expressions of same-sex affection. In her
circle of acquaintances, however, she saw a different story: people
would come out quite early to supportive families and lead happy
lives. She embarked on a research mission. Her procedure to
contest media negativity and to foster acceptance was to reclaim
beauty: when something is beautiful people just accept it as it is,
she says (WWP, 2013). Free from antagonistic ideas of beauty
that artists in Vietnam had debated during the 1990s, the press
release states: Love is beautiful(AAA [Asia Art Archive], 2012),
with a simplicity useful for widespread dissemination.
Irrespective of beauty constructs, the images are powerful
expressions of affection, support and complicity between indivi-
duals whose identity is a key part of the work. Unlike other projects
discussed above, Pink Choice does not have a performative element
in its nal form, although the people it portrays were able to choose
to performtheir self-representation, or remain candid. Maika,
and the people she photographed, decided to move away from
anonymity and discretion, to combat the lack of identity that
media cloaks gay people in. The photographs collect routine
moments in the lives of gay and lesbian couples, inserting them
into parameters of the normal.
The decision of participants to pose for these photographs
cannot be underestimated. Artist and critic Viet Le (2015), on his
part working on an ethnographic photography project on gay
male nudes, found his own coming out, in the relative safety of
the United States, difcult. Discrimination has no borders, but it
is not preventing people from taking risks. Queer lifestyles seem
to be a popular theme for creations that, as Maika hopes, will help
to demystify and make realthe lives of gay people (WPP, 2013).
Twenty years after Truong Tan painted his rst homosexual
artwork, Nguyen Quoc Thanh (b. 1970) created a photographic
series that explores the formation of male homosexuality in
Vietnam, A Soldiers Garden (2012). Whereas Tan, and to some
extent Himiko, started their explorations around their personal
experiences, Thanh omits references to himself, and, like Maika
Elan, embarks on a research of the gestation of feelings and
desires in others. Thanhs aim with A Soldiers Garden is to
explore homosexual desire within a group of young men living in
close proximity.
Set in a location that affords some distance from peers who
may see or hear, trainee soldiers are captured in a familiar
portraiture style, at night, in the gardens of their military
residence. The process, Thanh found as he worked, manifests the
power of state conditioning. The young men he points his camera
at hover on the uncertain space between being at ease for a casual,
friendly photo, and being watched by ofcers whose vigilance
sanctions ofcial behaviour codes. This awkward position
translates onto the photographs as distancesbetween the
subjects, between the image and the viewer, between darkness
and light(Thanh cited in Zhuang Wubin, 2015).
The images are, like Himikos, not very explicit, and bring to
the fore elements of the private sphere. Thanh works in an ofcial,
restricted-access space, which he has had to request permission to
use. In this case, the bureaucratic procedure of getting a licence to
enter the barracks is undergone even before the works are made. A
licence will be required again later, to exhibit the works. Closer or
Pink Choice celebrate the freedom of privacy, whereas the Soldiers
Garden reverberates with stagnant ofcial impositions. Decades
prior, grinding restrictions spurred Truong Tan to leave his
institutional job as a lecturer (Lenzi, 2002; Naziree and Phan,
2006). In 1997 he moved to Paris, where he discovered feelings of
freedom beyond his expectations (Tsai, 2014).
The ripples
The artworks above have laid down the groundwork for a more
inclusive future. Truong Tans visual narratives of homosexual love
shook the Vietnamese artworld, yet they inspired many to move
away from convention. Artist and curator Tran Luonghimself a
creator of powerful performanceswas inspired by Truong Tans
bravery. Over a decade later, Luong made a rather melodramatic
statement against the continued marginalization of gay people:
the voice of homosexual class has been refused point blank
for 14 years since Truong Tan exhibition in 1995. We should
never ignore the fact that homosexuals account for at least 2%
of the total population of 80 millions. They have lived in the
dark for two thousand years without happiness [sic]. (Tran
Luong, 2009: 184)
This well-intention comment from an open-minded artist is
indicative of how pervasive ideologies are on the exceptionalism of
queer identity, and their emotional well-being. Tran Luongs
statistic (2% of the population is gay) is not backed up by any
source, but may be an intuitive, if questionable, interpretation of
the Vietnam population census, which in 1989 noted that the
percentage of men who never marry is between 0.9% and 3.6%,
depending on the region (Aronson, 1999: 208).10 Of course there
can be no direct correlation between marriage and sexual orien-
tation, but Aronson uses the census data to explain how Vietnamese
tradition of lial obligation made it unnecessary for civil authorities
Figure 2 |The peephole in the wooden box over one of Himikos
photographs from the Come Out series. Source: Photograph taken by
Cristina Nualart (2011) and reproduced by permission of Nguyen Kim
Hoang. This gure is covered by the CC BY-NC 4.0 license.
6PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 |
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
to create laws against homosexuality. The weight of tradition by
itself would lead to people getting married (Aronson, 1999: 208). As
we have seen, two generations of artists are working to reduce the
friction of old traditions on a vibrant, young Vietnam, although
many artists avoid confrontation and play it safe (Kraevskaia, 2002).
Another challenge associated with homosexuality has been
AIDS. The AIDS crisis in the United States united sufferers and
supporters through the ACT UP network, organizing perfor-
mances called die-ins(Foster, 2003), that, as the name implies,
recall Truong TansroleinMother and Child.Althoughfrom
the mid-1990s USAID (2015) started an HIV/AIDS programme
in Vietnam, the AIDS crisis in Asia was less visible, or visible in
a troubling way. Imagery on Vietnamese anti-AIDS posters
suggests that the disease is associated with drug use and
prostitution(Chiu and Genocchio, 1996: 89).11 Truong Tan
responded with some AIDS-related paintings that show wasted
male bodies.12 A number of authors compare Tans drawings
with those of Keith Haring (Lenzi, 2002, 2015; Chiu and
Genocchio, 2010; Bui Nhu Huong and Pham Thuong, 2012).
Artist Hoang Duong Cam seems to recall that the comparison
between Truong Tan and Keith Haring was rst made by
Bradford Edwards (personal communication, 2014). Tan
himself acknowledged Haringsinuence on his drawing style
during his formative period (Chiu and Genocchio, 1996: 89),
but, although both artists create thick-lined drawings with a
spontaneous quality, Tans are rendered with more natural
proportions and lack the cartoonish rhythm of Haringsgrafti.
The recurrence of the comparison is legitimate but risks
entrenching rigid associations to gay and AIDS activism and
to group homosexual artists together.
As more visibility is given to queer identied people, the less
likely it is that they will all be bundled together. Many of the
artworks discussed above predate the following events, which
have a broader, more popular, reach: Vietnamsrst Gay Pride
parade was celebrated in 2012 (AP, 2012), the same year that My
Best Gay Friends sitcom debuted on YouTube to become an
instant hit (DeHart, 2013). In 2013, Nguyen Quoc Thanh, a
founding member of the Hanoi art space Nha San Collective and
author of A Soldiers Garden, initiated Queer Forever, a queer art
festival in Hanoi that encompasses art exhibitions, conferences
and concerts. The festival is growing year on year, and is widely
publicized via independent online publications.13 Offord (2013:
339) notices patterns in LGBT activism that signal a divergence
between Southeast Asian and Western societies, but if one may
extrapolate the ndings made by Calzo and Ward (2009) on the
presence of gay and lesbian characters in the US media,
Vietnams increasing visibility of homosexuals may also lead
towards wider social acceptance (see Phillips, 2013 for a recent
survey of the situation). A Vietnamese news article gives an
inspiring example that indicates that media exposure can help to
normalize homosexuality (Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, 2004).
Censorship has been mentioned in this discussion regularly,
and almost as rhythmically has affected Tan and Himiko over
their careers (NCAC, 2007; Naziree, 2010). Ngo Dinh Trucs
urban intervention could avoid permit requests, because only
conventional exhibitions in a venue open to the public need the
licence from the Ministry of Information and Culture.
A look at the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC,
2007) listing of HimikosClosergives an indication of the issues
the censoring board takes into account before granting, or not, a
licence to exhibit. The irony is that it is not just the Vietnamese
government censoring her nude photography, it is also Facebook
(see ). The social network, in turn not ofcially approved, is used
on an unprecedented scale in Vietnam, which has one of the
highest Internet censorship circumvention rates in the world
(Sharbaugh, 2014).
The Deputy Head of the Culture and Art Department says
there is no list of forbidden topics, but artists are advised not to
show work that opposes the party and the government, or goes
against traditional customs, such as modest attire (Brown, 2012).
A gallerist of Vietnamese art known to this author has had more
trouble securing licences to show artworks with frontal nudity than
with any other topic (personal communication, 2016). The
prestigious art centre in HCMC, San Art, recently closed its
Laboratory building devoted to artist residencies, due to continued
censorship issues. Nearby, San Arts main gallery space had taken
to exhibiting the ofcial letters that denied the necessary exhibition
licence in lieu of banned artworks. This happened with staged
photographs by Phan Quang and images of Cambodian bomb
ponds by Vandy Rattana.14 None of the photographs by either
artist had any direct, queer theme, although it should be said that
the gallery has not, to my knowledge, shown any overtly queer
artworks. My personal impression is that Vietnamese censors do
not show a distinct bias against homosexuality, as authorities
systematically reject any work that has political or sexual overtones.
This article has looked for connections between Vietnams
structural development in the latter part of the twentieth century,
its modern and contemporary art history, and, within that, a
number of queer art projects created since the 1990s.
In post-Doi Moi Vietnam, at the same time as state policies
took effect, the rst generation of contemporary art performers
and photographers added to the innovative ripples that were
shaking art thinking and practice. The decade of the 1990s is
considered to mark the beginning of Vietnamese contemporary
art, and it is interesting to nd that art with homosexual content
appears at the same time. Although not all queer artworks have
been explored (a task too lengthy to be accommodated here), the
timeline suggests that, since the breakthrough that Truong Tan
made in the early 1990s, queer artworks have been created with
increasing frequency, and are also being created by straight
people, which is an important sign that it is not just the queer
minority who are interested in this.
Selecting topics such as explicit male nudes and same-sex
arousal, low awareness about AIDS or government abusein the
form of surveillance, restrictions or corruptionTruong Tan
caused so much shock that he conceivably made it easy for other
artists to take risks. Unfortunately, the censorship he experienced
was also much talked about, and possibly hindered other artists
from developing unconventional work. Nonetheless, important
artists of his generation and later, including Tran Luong and
Hoang Duong Cam, have expressed their indebtedness to
his work.
Tans overt homosexuality has arguably contributed signicantly
to his success as an artist, although the repetitive expectations
placed on him by the outside world have been a burden. He denies
that homosexuality is the only topic he is interested in. [M]y
works are about humanity in general. My private life is private,he
exclaims in a critique of the categorization of a person by their
sexual orientation (cited in Tsai, 2014). In recent years, his
installation pieces, for example Hidden Beauty (2007) or Mother of
Peace (2009), show a strong critique of the Vietnamese government
that is not related to sexual issues.
Performative works of queer art in Vietnam have occupied an
important part of the discussion. It has been stated that the
development of performance is not directly contestative, but
arguments explain that inherent characteristics of performance
art (such as its portability, spontaneity, freedom from canons or
its ability to stun audiences, as in the reactions to Mother and
Child described by Radulovic) were conducive to using it as an art
PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 | 7
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
practice of resistance. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to
suggest that it was mostly used to manifest queer discontent. If
anything, it appears to have been used in equal parts to challenge
academic art and to critique political issues. Fundamentally,
performance was the newcomer on the Vietnamese art play-
ground and experienced some bullying. The rejection was not so
monolithic as to concern us that the alienation of the art form will
drag on indenitely. As Taylor (2009: 173) says, in many ways
[performance art] entered the mainstream.
Two-dimensional works are a more accepted, established
medium, one that is still perfectly valid for creating affront.
Truong Tans drawing style breaks with tradition in its simplied,
linear aspect, but pays homage to tradition with its material
constitution: Tan uses rice paper and lacquer dear to Vietnamese
tradition. His principal achievement is in the discomforting
choice of subject matter, sometimes described as pornographic
something that in other countries would be dismissed as self-
inating shock tactics. In Vietnam it was an example of an
individual rejecting national power structures and it activated
both contemporary art and homosexual visibility.
A salient point is the wilfulness with which some artists work
against the grain. Nguyen Quoc Thanhs public activism (Queer
Forever festival) gives credence to the impression that Vietnams
homosexual community can come out of hiding in relative
safety, with the cautions that transpire from Newtons (2012)
research. Artists Tan and Himiko clearly articulate their
objective to defy censorship and to express themselves freely.
Those objectives are not tied in unison. Since censorship can be
unpredictable, it is not in direct opposition to self-expression.
perceived as an angry rebellion to authority. On the contrary,
they indicate a thoughtful understanding on how national
ideology is implemented and how it is naturalized by the general
population. In Closer we nd a good example of intellectual
retaliation. She combats pervasive stereotypes with homoeo-
pathicmethods: by zooming in on the allergen and dosing it.
Ngo Dinh Truc and Maika Elan did not ideate The Same
[Gender] or Pink Choice with the same personal drive for self-
expression that we sense in Tan and Himiko, but those equally
laudable projects demonstrate clever reections on how to avoid
instant public dismissal. Like the best pedagogy, they offer a new
layer of learning that mines ingrained knowledge and slowly
erodes by incompatibility. All three projects use their visual
power to activate emotions. The linguistic ploy in The Same
[Gender] is an effective method for making distinct the invisible
assumptions encoded in the culture. The hidden images in Come
Out, in their interactive framing device, generate a similar
situation, tending to the phenomenological rather than the
verbal, however.
Pink Choice and Closer lay claim, clearly articulated by their
creators, to a vindication of beauty. Even if no denitions of
beauty were specied or proposed, it is not because both
photographers assume that beauty ideals are universal, but
because the concept of beauty is so linked to Vietnamese identity
(the beauty of the nation, in its widest sense, is historically
entrenched) that it has an unmistakeable resonance. As Maika
explained, beauty is a tool that makes her work acceptable to
those who would reject it for its homosexual content. An excellent
account of the pervasive ideology of beauty, to a degree that it can
be used as a social control mechanism, comes from Erik Harms
(2012), whose analysis centres on ideals of urban beauty. It is
worth recalling here the artistic debates of the 1990s, in which
innovations such as performance art were denounced by many as
ugly. Himiko and Maikas photographs do not violate standard
expectations about art to the extent that performance did decades
earlier, thus they share some afnity with traditional art, which in
its most basic construct is perceived as beautiful by default.
As for the international picture, the development of queer art
in Vietnam and in the United States highlights a curious
difference in the status of the artists. For the American artists
in the mid-twentieth centuryReed (2011) cites Paul Cadmus
and Jared Frenchqueer themes were possible only if they gave
up pretensions of becoming avant-garde gureheads. The
American establishment could tolerate some skilful images of
male nudes in the light of Renaissance tradition, but would never
sanction other types of explicitly homoerotic depictions (although
these were known to circulate in trusted circles of like-minded art
lovers and collectors). As someone informed a young, eccentric-
looking Andy Warhol a few years later, the major painters try to
look straight(cited in Reed, 2011: 171). This contrasts with the
Vietnamese scenario, almost in polar opposition. Vietnamese
artists, at least Truong Tan (since he is of the generation active in
the 1990s, when avant-garde artarguablybegins in Vietnam),
appear to enter the avant-garde rather than exit it when they take
on queer subject matter. In the past, some Vietnamese artists
believed that engaging in performance art made them con-
temporary artists. If LGBT themes are seen as the key to current
contemporary art, perhaps gay art will merely be the next trend.
During the 1990s, many critics in Vietnams effervescent artworld
felt that performance art was a trend for lazy artists (for example,
Miscault, 2015). Time has shown that the experimentation that
took place in Vietnam may not have resulted in a string of
masterpieces, but overall, the art form has contributed some
singular works to the world.
Through examination of post-Doi Moi cultural production,
this study has tried to document how homosexuality has shifted
its way into the margins of visibility, even if it is still far from
mainstream. While this study does not purport to be exhaustive,
in the period from 1992 to 2015, the creation of queer artworks
has been growing in quantity and in type of media. The ndings
show that queer artworks are generated from one of two places: a
drive to resist established behaviour codes, or a need to nd
answers, to explore and research some aspect of homosexuality. It
is up to debate if the Vietnamese social imaginary is changing its
awareness, understanding and levels of tolerance as a conse-
quence of, or aided by, queer cultural works.
1 Reed (2011: 240242) has articulated the language shifts around terms like gay art
and queer art. This article uses the more prevalent term queer art to designate art
with themes that address homosexuality in some way, irrespective of whether the
works were made by straight or queer identied artists, or if these are publicly out.
2 Abstraction was permitted from 1990 according to Huynh (2005: 142), or from 1991
according to Taylor (2012: 10), but the rst licence-granting authorization for a
specic exhibition to feature abstract art was given in 1992 (Kraevskaia, 2009: 106).
3 Chiu and Genocchio (1996: 85) call Doi Moi the Vietnamese perestroika.
4 The debate also touched upon the ontology of contemporary art, questioning if
Vietnam was even capable of producing such art. The idea mirrors colonial patterns
in the Western hemisphere, according to Desai (2005). Until the early 1990s, the
president of the Asia Society never witnessed serious curatorial consideration for
inclusion of contemporary Asian art into collections in the United States. Desai
illuminates his point by citing art critic Holland Cotter: How could avant-garde art
exist anywhere in the timelesscultures of what we monolithically call Asia? If it did,
it could not be any good. Too Western, or too Asian. Or too little of one or the other
(cited in Desai, 2005: 104).
5 Radulovic (n.d.) sees Tan as initiating performance art in Vietnam, a statement
corroborated by Boi Tran Huynh who gives the year 1994 (Huynh, 2005: 356, 358).
The expression contemporary artemployed by Bui Nhu Huong illustrates the
discrepancies that Vietnam was having on the meaning of that term.
6 These two artists date their performance in the grounds of Hanois Temple of Lit-
erature to 1997 (Tien Van Mieu, n.d.,), although Taylor (2007, 2009) places it in
1995. This and other minor inconsistencies in the details of artworks point to the
8PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 |
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
scarcity of documentation on this generation of artists, possibly because the artists
had little sense of the potential future impact of their experimentations.
7 The piece is known in English as Mother and Son in Radulovic (2009: 191) and Lenzi
(2015: 16), Mother and Child in Bui Nhu Huong (2010: 12) or The Past and the
Future in Bui Nhu Huong and Pham Thuong (2012: 16). The discrepancy in the
recorded title is all the more puzzling, as the same author, Bui, contributes to two of
the sources.
8 Incidentally, the conical leaf hat is becoming a performance prop all by itself, it would
appear from Harms(2011) ndings, whereby street vendors choose to wear tradi-
tional garments as part of their improvised marketing strategyto sell their home-
made goods.
9 For example, Drummond (2000) or Thomas (2001).
10 Interestingly, in 2012 a small-scale gender report in HCMC found that out of 189
respondents, 2% declared to be neither female nor male (LIN Center for Community
Development, 2012).
11 Ofcial posters and billboards of this type continued to be displayed in Vietnam until
at least 2015, as witnessed by the author.
12 For example, the works on paper Contagiously Sick, which can be viewed online
(Truong Tan, 2010), The Hunter for Aids and Aids Fuckers Go Home, both from
1995, or the 1994 installation titled I Like You I Like HIV discussed in Chiu and
Genocchio (1996: 90).
13 The is an online information network on art and culture with a
long trajectory. It is written mostly in English and run by volunteers. In recent years
other online art and culture magazines have sprung up, although some are short
lived. Facebook is a very popular method for distributing information in Vietnam, for
reasons thoroughly articulated by Sharbaugh (2014).
14 This information is public and online on the San Art Facebook page or their Website.
See, for example,
AAA [Asia Art Archive]. (2012) The Pink Choice. Online publication, 5 June,
Anh Vu and Khanh An (2015) Vietnam recognizes transgender rights in
breakthrough vote. Thanh Nien News, online publication, 24 November,
AP (Associated Press). (2012) Demonstrators hold Vietnams 1st gay pride parade.
CBS News, online publication, 4 August,
Aronson Jacob (1999) Homosex in Hanoi? Sex, the public sphere, and public
sex In: Leap William (ed) Public Sex/Gay Space. Columbia University Press:
New York, pp 203221.
Bui Nhu Huong (2009) Modern Vietnamese art: Process and identity In: Lee Sarah
and Nhu Huy Nguyen (eds) Essays on Modern and Contemporary Vietnamese
Art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp 7886.
Bui Nhu Huong (2010) Art in Vietnam today In: Connect: Vietnamese Art Scene;
(Update: Kunstszene Vietnam). IFA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen): Berlin
and Stuttgart, Germany, pp 7685.
Bui Nhu Huong and Pham Thuong (2012) Vietnamese Contemporary Art 1990
2010. Knowledge Publishing House: Hanoi, Vietnam.
Brown Marianne (2012) Performance art tests social, political taboos in Vietnam.
Tribune Business News, online publication, 28 February, ProQuest, http://
Calzo Jerel P and Ward Ward, L (2009) Media exposure and viewersattitudes
toward homosexuality: Evidence for mainstreaming or resonance? Journal of
Broadcasting & Electronic Media;53 (2): 280299.
Chiu Melissa and Genocchio Benjamin (1996) A silencing sexuality. Third Text;
10 (37): 8590.
Chiu Melissa and Genocchio Benjamin (2010) Contemporary Asian Art. Thames &
Hudson: London.
De Miscault Dominique (2015) Les printemps vietnamien et ses suites. Regards
sur lart vietnamien des années 1990 jusquà aujourdhui In: Herbelin C,
Wisniewski B and Dalex F (eds) Arts du Vietnam. Nouvelles Approches. Presses
Universitaires de Rennes: Rennes, France, pp 153157.
DeHart Jonathan (2013) My Best Gay Friends big YouTube Hit for Vietnam. The
Diplomat, online publication, 4 April,
Desai Vishakha N (2005) Beyond the authentic exotic: Collecting contemporary
Asian art in the twenty-rst century In: Altshuler Bruce (ed) Collecting the New.
Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, pp 103114.
Dinh Thanh Lam Tran (2004) Arts weekly/Vietnam: Closet gays slowly coming
out. IPS News, online publication, 20 July,
Drummond L (2000) Street scenes: Practices of public and private space in urban
Vietnam. Urban Studies;37 (12): 2389.
Drummond Lisa (2006) Gender in post-Doi Moi Vietnam: Women, desire,
and change. Gender, Place and Culture?13 (3): 247250.
Duffy Dan (1995) Cultural collage: Vietnams new breed of artists leaves lasting
impressions. Far Eastern Economic Review;6(July): 5051.
Edwards Bradford (1997) A stir in the ranks. Asian Art News 7(2), online
Findlay Ian and Hagemans Helene (1997) Changing times. Asian Art News 7(2),
online publication,
Foster Susan Leigh (2003) Choreographies of protest. Theatre Journal;55 (3):
Harms Erik (2011) Saigons Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City. University
of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, MN.
Harms Erik (2012) Beauty as control in the new Saigon: Eviction, new urban zones,
and atomized dissent in a Southeast Asian city. American Ethnologist;39 (4):
Huynh Boi Tran (2005) Vietnamese aesthetics from 1925 onwards, PhD,
University of Sydney, online publication,
Kraevskaia Natalia (2002) Vietnamese modern art: Change stagnation potential
strategy. Vietnamese Fine Art in the 20th Century Conference, Hanoi, online
publication, 30 March,
Kraevskaia Natalia (2009) Collectivism and individualism in society and art after
Doi Moi In: Sarah Lee and Nguyen Nhu Huy (eds) Essays on Modern and
Contemporary Vietnamese Art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp 103110.
Lalwani Bharti (2014) Arguing for regional perspectives: Two germinal texts
capturing the ethos of conceptual art from Southeast Asia. Take on Art IV (15),
online publication,
Lenzi Iola (2002) Hanoi, Paris, Hanoi, the evolving art of Truong Tan + Nguyen
Quang Huy. Art Asia Pacic;35,6469.
Lenzi Iola (2015) Looking out: How queer translates in Southeast Asian contemporary
art. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacic, 38, online
publication, August,
LIN Center for Community Development. (2012) Survey on gender perceptions.
Online publication, August,
Mann David (2014) Leading the way: Vietnams push for gay rights. Is one of
Asias most repressive states paving the way for gay marriage? The Diplomat,
online publication, 18 April,
Naziree Shireen (2010) How to Be and Angel. Thavibu Gallery: Bangkok, Thailand.
Naziree Shirin and Thuong Phan Cam (2006) Impressions and Expressions:
Vietnamese Contemporary Painting. Thavibu Gallery: Bangkok, Thailand.
NCAC. (2007) Closer (Photographic exhibition). Online publication, http://wiki.
Newton Natalie N (2012) A queer political economy of community: Gender, space,
and the transnational politics of community for Vietnamese lesbians (les)
in Saigon. PhD, University of California, Irvine, online publication, http:// =3547300.
Ngo Dinh Truc (2015) Photography. Ngo Dinh, online publication,
Nguyen Himiko (2007) CLOSER, Himiko Nguyen, online publication,
Nguyen Himiko (2013) Incidents of censorship in FB. Himiko Café,
online publication, 16 August,
Nguyen Nhu Huy (2009) Redening the past and transforming public space:
Two new strategies of Vietnam contemporary artists in the early years of
new centuries [sic] In: Lee Sarah and Nhu Huy Nguyen (eds) Essays on Modern
and Contemporary Vietnamese Art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum,
pp 8793.
Nguyen Quan (2015) Mouvement et inertie. Lart vietnamien pendant les années
1990 au debut de 2000 In: Herbelin C, Wisniewski B and Dalex F (eds) Arts du
Vietnam. Nouvelles approches. Presses Universitaires de Rennes: Rennes,
France, pp 145152.
Offord Baden (2013) Queer activist intersections in Southeast Asia: Human rights
and cultural studies. Asian Studies Review;37 (3): 335349.
Oeld Simon (2005) Cruising the archive. Journal of Visual Culture;4(3): 351364.
Phillips Jak (2013) LGBT rights blossom in repressive Vietnam, but no sign of further
freedoms. Time, online publication, 31 July,
Phinney Harriet M (2008) Objects of affection: Vietnamese discourses on love and
emancipation. Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique;16 (2): 329358.
Poshyananda Apinan (2000) Positioning contemporary Asian art. Art Journal
Spring;59 (1): 1013.
Promadhattavedi Chavitchai (1996) Twenty Vietnamese painters: Aspects of
contemporary Vietnamese painting In: Cultural Representation in Transition:
New Vietnamese Painting. The Siam Society: Bangkok, Thailand, pp 3237.
Radulovic Veronika (n.d.) Vietnam Archive. Online publication,
PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 | 9
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Radulovic Veronika (2009) Everything can happen between now and thenIn:
Lee Sarah and Nhu Huy Nguyen (eds) Essays on Modern and Contemporary
Vietnamese Art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp 189197.
Reed Christopher (2011) Art and Homosexuality. Oxford University Press: New York.
Robinson Abby (2006) New Vietnamese photography. Online publication, http://
Rydstrøm Helle (2006) Sexual desires and social evils: Young women in rural
Vietnam. Gender, Place and Culture;13 (3): 283301.
Schuler S, Hoang TA, Vu SH, Tran HM, Bui TTM and Pham VT (2006)
Constructions of gender in Vietnam: In pursuit of the three criteria.Culture,
Health & Sexuality;8(5): 383394.
Scott Phoebe (2015) Parallels and divergence: Curating modern Vietnamese art in a
regional context In: Herbelin C, Wisniewski B and Dalex F (eds) Arts du Vietnam.
Nouvelles approches. Presses Universitaires de Rennes: Rennes, France, pp 205215.
Sharbaugh Patrick (2014) Report: Theres more censorship circumvention in
Vietnam than in any other nation. Online publication, 15 July, http://vietmeme.
Sliwinska Basia (2013) Art and queer culture: A peephole into anything else you
want to be.Third Text;7(6): 808810.
Talawas. (2002) Talawas round table contemporary Vietnamese art in the
international context. Online publication,
showFile.php?res =769&rb =0201.
Taylor N (2012) Deant abstraction: Nguyen Trung and the modernist movement
in South Vietnam from 19651990. Association for Asian Studies Annual
Conference. Toronto, Canada, 1518 March.
Taylor N (2014) Nguyen Trung: A Monograph. CUC Gallery: Hanoi, Vietnam.
Taylor NA (2007) Vietnamese anti-art and anti-Vietnamese artists: Experimental
performance culture in Ha Nois alternative exhibition spaces. Journal of
Vietnamese Studies;2(2): 108128.
Taylor NA (2009) Art in space: Reections on the rise of performance art in
Vietnam In: Lee Sarah and Nhu Huy Nguyen (eds) Essays on Modern and
Contemporary Vietnamese Art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp 173180.
Taylor NA (2011) The Southeast Asian art historian as ethnographer? Third Text;
25 (4): 475488.
Thomas M (2001) Public spaces/public disgraces: Crowds and the state in contemporary
Vietnam. Sojourn Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia;16 (2): 306317.
Tien Van Mieu (n.d.) Tie
´n. Online
Tran Ben (2012) Queer Internationalism and modern Vietnamese aesthetics In: Mark
Wollaeger and Matt Eatough (eds) The Oxford Handbook on Global Modernisms,
online publication, September, 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195338904.013.0015.
Tran Luong (2009) Running out of fuel right after taking off In: Sarah Lee and
Nguyen Nhu Huy (eds) Essays on Modern and Contemporary Vietnamese Art.
Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp 182188.
Truong Tan (2010) In the past I was very lonely, in art., online
publication, 27 April, /?p =2687.
Tsai Sylvia (2014) Open boundaries: Interview with Truong Tan. ArtAsiaPacic,
online publication, 26 February:
USAID. (2015) Vietnam HIV/AIDS. Online publication,
Viet Le (2015) In the studio: Vie
ˆtLê.Andofotherthings, online publication,
23 December, /2015/12/23/in-the-studio-viet-le/.
WPP [World Press Photo]. (2013) Maika Elan (2013 World Photo Contest).
Online video, 8 July,
Zhuang Wubin (2010) Post-Doi Moi photography in Saigon: Nguyen Xuan Khanh
and Bui Xuan Huy. Asian Art Newspaper, November, 68.
Zhuang Wubin (2015) Documenting as method: Photography in Southeast Asia., online publication,
Data availability
Data sharing is not applicable to this article, as no datasets were generated or analysed
during the current study.
Additional information
Competing interests: The author declares no competing nancial interests.
Reprints and permission information is available at
How to cite this article: Nualart C (2016). Queer art in Vietnam: from closet to pride in
two decades. Palgrave Communications. 2:16009 doi: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License. The images or other third party material in this
article are included in the articles Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise
in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license,
users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material.
To view a copy of this license, visit
10 PALGRAVE COMMUNICATIONS |2:16009 |DOI: 10.1057/palcomms.2016.9 |
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Terms and Conditions
Springer Nature journal content, brought to you courtesy of Springer Nature Customer Service Center GmbH (“Springer Nature”).
Springer Nature supports a reasonable amount of sharing of research papers by authors, subscribers and authorised users (“Users”), for small-
scale personal, non-commercial use provided that all copyright, trade and service marks and other proprietary notices are maintained. By
accessing, sharing, receiving or otherwise using the Springer Nature journal content you agree to these terms of use (“Terms”). For these
purposes, Springer Nature considers academic use (by researchers and students) to be non-commercial.
These Terms are supplementary and will apply in addition to any applicable website terms and conditions, a relevant site licence or a personal
subscription. These Terms will prevail over any conflict or ambiguity with regards to the relevant terms, a site licence or a personal subscription
(to the extent of the conflict or ambiguity only). For Creative Commons-licensed articles, the terms of the Creative Commons license used will
We collect and use personal data to provide access to the Springer Nature journal content. We may also use these personal data internally within
ResearchGate and Springer Nature and as agreed share it, in an anonymised way, for purposes of tracking, analysis and reporting. We will not
otherwise disclose your personal data outside the ResearchGate or the Springer Nature group of companies unless we have your permission as
detailed in the Privacy Policy.
While Users may use the Springer Nature journal content for small scale, personal non-commercial use, it is important to note that Users may
use such content for the purpose of providing other users with access on a regular or large scale basis or as a means to circumvent access
use such content where to do so would be considered a criminal or statutory offence in any jurisdiction, or gives rise to civil liability, or is
otherwise unlawful;
falsely or misleadingly imply or suggest endorsement, approval , sponsorship, or association unless explicitly agreed to by Springer Nature in
use bots or other automated methods to access the content or redirect messages
override any security feature or exclusionary protocol; or
share the content in order to create substitute for Springer Nature products or services or a systematic database of Springer Nature journal
In line with the restriction against commercial use, Springer Nature does not permit the creation of a product or service that creates revenue,
royalties, rent or income from our content or its inclusion as part of a paid for service or for other commercial gain. Springer Nature journal
content cannot be used for inter-library loans and librarians may not upload Springer Nature journal content on a large scale into their, or any
other, institutional repository.
These terms of use are reviewed regularly and may be amended at any time. Springer Nature is not obligated to publish any information or
content on this website and may remove it or features or functionality at our sole discretion, at any time with or without notice. Springer Nature
may revoke this licence to you at any time and remove access to any copies of the Springer Nature journal content which have been saved.
To the fullest extent permitted by law, Springer Nature makes no warranties, representations or guarantees to Users, either express or implied
with respect to the Springer nature journal content and all parties disclaim and waive any implied warranties or warranties imposed by law,
including merchantability or fitness for any particular purpose.
Please note that these rights do not automatically extend to content, data or other material published by Springer Nature that may be licensed
from third parties.
If you would like to use or distribute our Springer Nature journal content to a wider audience or on a regular basis or in any other manner not
expressly permitted by these Terms, please contact Springer Nature at
... As the stifling atmosphere which had permeated the cultural sphere prior to Đổi mới eased, Vietnamese artists, curators, collectors and gallerists began to experiment with new ideas and forms of expression. Foreign cultural material started to circulate in Vietnam, new possibilities to travel abroad opened up access to world art, and a 'freer' market took form in which art works could be bought and sold legitimately (Healey, 2014;Nualart, 2016;Taylor and Corey, 2019). Alongside new commercial galleries and cafe´s holding public exhibitions, an alternative art scene emerged quietly through contemporary art exhibitions and performances held clandestinely in private homestudios (Taylor, 2007). ...
... 6 This process is made extraordinarily complicated by the ambiguities, unpredictability and discretionary character of the Vietnamese state's cultural censorship and repression practices. To give just one example, Vietnamese officials sometimes claim that there is no list of forbidden topics as long as cultural works stay clear of opposing the party and government (Nualart, 2016). However, members of the Vietnamese art scene report a long list of topics that might lead to permission being denied or revoked. ...
... However, members of the Vietnamese art scene report a long list of topics that might lead to permission being denied or revoked. These range from the more obvious questions of national politics and representations, to sexual content, religion and any social concern deemed likely to provoke public controversy or disorder (interviews; Lux, 2007;Nualart, 2016). This lack of fixed or transparent rules demarcating the acceptable from the unacceptable is a central characteristic of the Vietnamese state's governing practices in the cultural sector (Lux, 2007). ...
Full-text available
Vietnam’s capital city has recently witnessed the emergence of a new type of cultural space akin to what have been labelled creative hubs in other contexts: that is, locales that foster creation, collaboration, community engagement and business development in the cultural sector. During the 2010s, Hanoi saw a proliferation of small-scale, art-oriented creative hubs, most of them community-led and developed without state funding. In a context marked by a government historically wary of contemporary and experimental arts, these spaces face various forms of state control ranging from the censorship of events, to stiff fines or even closure. Despite these barriers, creative hubs have become important sites for the gathering and formation of Hanoi’s contemporary arts scene and countercultures. Based on over 80 interviews conducted in 2019, this paper investigates the motives behind the rise of these spaces in Hanoi and the political engagement techniques their founders, operators and users employ to remain in operation. Drawing on the notion of ‘informal life politics’, we argue that creative hubs seek to provide spaces of (partial) autonomy from governmentality in Hanoi. We further find that artists, intellectuals and other creative individuals use these spaces to challenge state controls. They do so not by lobbying formal institutions for policy changes, but instead by enacting the more open and free socio-cultural milieu they seek, from the bottom up.
... De la siguiente generación de artistas, nacida a principios de los años 1920, surgió otro grupo importante de pintores que se ha llamado los "Cuatro Pilares". Son Duong Bich Lien , y tres estudiantes del último curso de la EBAI, Nguyen Tu Nghiem (1922-2016), Nguyen Sang (1923-1988 y Bui Xuan Phai . ...
... Sus provocadores desnudos masculinos pueblan elegantes pinturas a la laca, de ejecución impecable, cuya novedad está en la temática queer, insólita y controvertida. 12 Aunque se ha vinculado el dibujo confiado y directo de Truong Tan al grafiti del estadounidense Keith Haring (Nualart, 2016), son los gemelos Le (Le Ngoc Thanh y Le Duc Hai, 1975-) quienes, a principios de su trayectoria, produjeron pinturas de laca con dibujos intencionadamente caricaturescos y chillones. ...
Full-text available
Resumen: Un cambio de paradigma en la concepción del arte emerge en Vietnam tras la implantación de una educación artística colonial. Del choque cultural nace la figura de artista profesional y una distinción previamente inexistente entre las llamadas artes menores y las bellas artes. Al mismo tiempo, la laca tradicional empleada en las artes decorativas de toda Asia, adquiere en Vietnam un uso innovador que la posiciona como un arte mayor en esta nueva jerarquía de las artes. A lo largo del siglo XX se consolida el oficio de artista mientras crece la importancia dada a la pintura con laca en la imaginería nacional. Enmarcando aspectos técnicos, estéticos e ideológicos en tres etapas, este artículo formula paralelismos en el desarrollo de la pintura artística con laca y el de la concepción del arte. Palabras clave: Indochina, Vietnam, Pintura a la Laca, Bellas Artes, Colonialismo, Educación. Abstract: The concept of art in Vietnam experiences a paradigm shift following the introduction of colonial art education. The cultural collision brought about the figure of the professional artist and established a previously nonexistent hierarchy between arts and crafts. Simultaneously, traditional lacquer, a natural resin used across Asia in the applied arts, became an innovative Fine Art material in Vietnam, where it acquired a major status in the new artistic order. Throughout the twentieth century, the role of the artist takes shape as the importance of lacquer painting grows in the national imaginary. Framing technical, aesthetic and ideological aspects in three periods, this article formulates parallels in the development of lacquer painting and of the concept of art.
... Determined to counter the 'social evil' label applied to LGBT people, the movement promoted the slogans, 'Normalcy' (Hãy nhìn nhận đồng tính là bình thường), 'Love' (Yêu thương'), 'Community Identity' (Bản sắc cộng đồng), and 'Human Rights' (Quyền của tôi). These slogans were disseminated widely in Vietnamese media to pave the way for the organisation of the country's first Pride parade (Faludi 2016;Nualart 2016). Thus, on 5 August 2012, the first Việt Pride took place in Hà Nội, capturing international media attention (Australian ABC News, August 5, 2012). ...
... El bosquejo del musculado varón, en torsión cual discóbolo de Mirón, magnifica la carga homoerótica de los cuerpos lampiños de la estatuaria clásica. Pero no es en esa dirección donde se dirige la intención de Truong Tan, primer artista vietnamita en salir del armario (Nualart, 2016). ...
Full-text available
No faltan en las artes visuales creaciones que han integrado en su plástica el lenguaje oral, la escritura o la traducción, si bien no es tan frecuente que el lenguaje sea el sujeto de la obra. Ese es el caso de diversas obras realizadas en dos antiguas colonias del Sudeste Asiático durante la década de 1990, que ponen en cuestión la herencia cultural constituida por las palabras y los sistemas de escritura. Desde sus respectivos contextos, Vietnam y Singapur, dos artistas aportan un incisivo comentario sobre los usos politizados de la escritura, las lenguas vernáculas y la alfabetización. Piezas performativas del artista Truong Tan y de la artista Amanda Heng aportan nuevos modos de comprender el funcionamiento del lenguaje y de la violencia ejercida a través de la colonización lingüística. Abstract: There is no shortage of artworks that have integrated the spoken word, writing or translation into their aesthetic form, although it is rare for language to be the subject of the works. This is the case of several works made during the 1990s in former colonies of Southeast Asia. The works call into question the cultural heritage that words and writing systems constitute. From their respective contexts, Vietnam and Singapore, two artists offer an incisive commentary on the politicized uses of vernacular languages and literacy. Performance pieces by artists Truong Tan and Amanda Heng contribute new ways of understanding the functioning of language, and the violence that can be exerted through linguistic colonization.
... Local media production has also changed following the State's weakening ideological imposition and external influences from global media and the Vietnamese diaspora (Carruthers, 2001;Huong Le, 2008;Kraevskaia, 2009). Since the 1990s, the country has seen the rise of provocative visual arts, including queer projects that challenge traditional ideals of gender and promote alternative gender identities (Lenzi, 2015;Nualart, 2016). Equally notable is the emergence of feminist art, which challenges norms and raises women's issues, albeit as a "marginal practice" (Nualart, 2018). ...
Full-text available
This doctoral thesis explores Vietnamese audience reception of soft masculinities, defined by the aestheticisation and romantic idealisation of male characters, in South Korean television dramas (K-dramas). Based on interview data collected in 2019, the thesis focuses on patterns of gendered desire, identification, and negotiation in viewers in their 20s and 30s. It highlights the popularity of K-dramas in Vietnam, which have established an enduring presence there since the late 1990s, overlapping with ongoing changes in gender relations following the introduction of the 1986 Đổi Mới (reform) policy, marked by Vietnam’s transition to a market economy and gradual integration into global trade. The thesis demonstrates how the spread of this “Korean Wave” is correlated with a changing local mediascape, the rise of a consumer culture, and a growing interest in exploring the self. Prominent themes of viewing experiences in relation to soft masculinities analysed in this thesis include escapism, parasocial interactions with characters, romantic imaginations, melancholic identification with romantic relationships on screen, desires for upward mobility, queer pleasures, ambivalence, and disidentification. The thesis thus contributes to contemporary Vietnamese studies, gender studies, psychosocial studies, media audience studies, and research on the Korean Wave.
... The layers of meaning in both Come Out series coincide with arguments made by Natalie Newton on the contingent invisibility of the lesbian community in Ho Chi Minh City, and have been discussed elsewhere. 47 Come Out is a piece made up of a number of independent, wall-hanging boxes that contain nude self-portraits, whereas in the second creation, Come Out II, 27 boxes are assembled into a single sculptural monument, treasuring the photographic portraits of different people. The monolithic body of work that is Come Out II resembles a large piece of furniture, and is in fact a sophisticated photographic framing device. ...
Full-text available
This inquiry into the concerns currently faced by women in Vietnam notes the transformation of feminist ideas in the country from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. The focus of this study is to open a debate on feminist art practice in Vietnam. The existence of feminist art in Vietnam has been denied by one scholar, yet the shortage of published research on the topic leaves little room for a theoretical discussion. The purpose of this article is to conjoin various topics relating to women's sense of self, observe how they have been represented in contemporary art, and lay a basic groundwork upon which a feminist art history can grow. By unravelling some of the messages on womanhood and female identity in contemporary artworks by women artists, this article proposes that feminist art exists in Vietnam, on the basis that it challenges social norms, critiques the pressures on women imposed by social structures, raises awareness on women's issues and models alternative modes of thought. Nonetheless, a number of artists do not overtly define their practice as feminist art, even when intentionally creating work with a liberating undercurrent. Research shows that this also happens in other parts of the world, suggesting that feminist art practice is alive and well, although the framework and language used to define it calls for a reappraisal.
Full-text available
The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Vietnam is a comprehensive resource exploring social, political, economic, and cultural aspects of Vietnam, one of contemporary Asia’s most dynamic but least understood countries. Following an introduction that highlights major changes that have unfolded in Vietnam over the past three decades, the volume is organized into four thematic parts, comprising Politics and Society Economy and Society Social life and institutions Cultures in Motion Part one address key aspects of Vietnam’s politics, from the role of the Communist Party of Vietnam in shaping the country’s institutional evolution to continuity and change in patterns of socio-political organization, political expression, state repression, diplomatic relations, and human rights. Part two assesses the transformation of Vietnam’s economy, addressing patterns of economic growth, investment and trade, the role of the state in the economy, and other economic aspects of social life. Parts three and four examine developments across a variety of social and cultural fields, through chapters on themes including welfare, inequality, social policy, urbanization, the environment and society, gender, ethnicity, the family, cuisine, art, mass media, and the politics of remembrance. Featuring 38 essays by leading Vietnam scholars from around the world, this book provides a cutting-edge analysis of Vietnam’s transformation and changing engagement with the world. It is an invaluable interdisciplinary reference work that will be of interest to students and academics of Southeast Asian Studies, as well as policymakers, analysts and anyone wishing to learn more about contemporary Vietnam. Additional information can be found here: The complete table of contents can be found here: #vietnam
Drawing from D.A. Miller's work on The novel and the police (1988) in Victorian fiction, this paper looks at narrative strategies through which the same-sex underworld is portrayed, policed and contained in contemporary Vietnamese fiction. The pioneering works of the prolific policeman-author Bùi Anh Tấn have spearheaded a strong connection between sex and crime in his representations of homosexuality. These potentially subversive representations take place within a liminal underworld, often depicted as an alternative space constitutive of personal identity characterized by same-sex desire outside of recognition by legal authorities or public morality. A critical exploration of the police presence and function within the narrative can uncover the underlying techniques and technologies of surveillance and discipline whereby depictions of the same-sex underworld are policed by and therefore complicit in an operational regime of pervasive hetero-normativity. By examining the thematics of criminality, sexual/social outcast, self-renunciation/acceptance, and cultural ambiguity in the sizable LGBT-themed oeuvre of Bùi Anh Tấn over the past two decades, this paper explores how this body of works partakes in the construction and containment of a transgressive yet marginalized homosexual underworld. Marked by the police presence and subjected to the policing function of the texts, this same-sex underworld is transformed into an object of increasing attention and fascination for an ever so curious yet still ambivalent Vietnamese society.
Whilst the study of Singapore’s vision to become a global city is not in itself new, there has been scant examination of the heteronormative hegemony that continues to underpin its nationalist-contemporary art narrative. Taking a case-study approach, this paper re-assesses the relationship between the cultural and economics-driven desires of the nation-state in promoting ‘Singaporean-ness’ by taking into consideration the role and place of Singapore’s visual queer in mediating representations of nationality. By critiquing the instrumentalisation of contemporary art and visual culture as shaped by the ‘Global City for the Arts’ (GCA) plans, this article explores the contradictions in Singapore’s GCA aspiration in light of wider queer politics played out in socio-spatial and visual-cultural spheres, particularly where the suppression of non-normative subjectivities had involved the demolition of queer spaces, censorship of obscene objects and the proscription of performance art.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Ponencia: Viajeras a Vietnam:mujeres extranjeras en el mundo del arte vietnamita (Mesa: Una mirada global a Asia). Actas del XIV Congreso de la Asociación de Historia Contemporánea (Mesa: Una mirada global a Asia). ISBN: 978-84-17422-62-2 Descargar libro completo (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes):
Much of the world’s population inhabits the urban fringe, an area that is neither fully rural nor urban. Hóc Môn, a district that lies along a key transport corridor on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, epitomizes one of those places. This book explores life in Hóc Môn, putting forth a revealing perspective on how rapid urbanization impacts the people who live at the intersection of rural and urban worlds. Unlike the idealized Vietnamese model of urban space, Hóc Môn is between worlds, neither outside nor inside but always uncomfortably both. With particular attention to everyday social realities, the book demonstrates how living on the margin can be both alienating and empowering, as forces that exclude its denizens from power and privilege in the inner city are used to thwart the status quo on the rural edges. More than a local case study of urban change, this work also opens a window on Vietnam’s larger turn toward market socialism and the celebration of urbanization—transformations instructively linked to trends around the globe.
Chapter 5 argues that the origins of Vietnam’s critical and socialist realism were not founded in class politics, as scholars have thus far suggested, but rather in queer internationalism. As the erosion of the male literati gave way to a female literary public, post-mandarin intellectuals were drawn to André Gide’s idiosyncratic synthesis of same-sex politics with socialism and his belief in individual literary expression and national particularity. The chapter argues that Gide’s influence in Vietnam during the 1930s underwrites the emergence of socialist realism. These claims challenge the historiography of the Vietnamese anticolonial revolution and its privileging of class determinism, leading to one of the main tenets of this book: that the disruption of gender and sexual relations set off by the post-mandarin rupture proves to be one of the crucial factors in Vietnam’s literary and cultural production during the era of colonial modernity.
By examining Vietnamese intellectuals' reception of André Gide and his articulation of national particularity, this article revisits the question of engagement and influence between European modernists and colonial writers. It emphasizes the political and aesthetic stakes of modern Vietnamese literature-its anticipation of a new reading public and its relationship to a national readership. The article examines the historical contexts of nationalism after World War I: nationalism's dialectical relationship with communist internationalism, its conditions of anti-colonial struggle, and its transformation of cultural forms. Beyond communism' critique of objective material conditions, the radical openness afforded by Gide's proposed interpellation of non-normative sexuality and non-normative particularity appealed to Vietnamese intellectuals, as they grappled with the inequalities and unevenness of colonial modernity.
The words “Asia,” “the Orient,” and “the East” are loaded terms conceived by the West. Through prefabricated constructs of the imagination, Asia has become one of the West's deepest and most recurring images of the Other. As a result, the geographical boundaries and regional divisions of Asia and the curatorial considerations in the visual arts that arise from them often comply with binary schemas such as East/West, yellow/white, and Asian values/Euro-American centricities.
This article examines the contributions of anthropology to the study of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art history. In looking at a number of studies of Southeast Asian artists by anthropologists, it aims to ask questions about the nature of contemporary art in Southeast Asia in relation to the discipline of anthropology. In particular, it questions the relevance of ethnographic texts in the study of images and how the reliance of ethnography on notions of cultural difference and the ‘other’ impacts on interpretations of living artists' work. Taking Vietnamese performance artists as an example, the article looks at a case where ethnography may act as a substitute for the lack of written art historical sources. The question then is not only of the appropriateness of applying ethnographic methods to Southeast Asian art but also of the appropriateness of Southeast Asian art to the study of ethnography and art history.
The eviction of residents to make way for a “new urban zone” in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is legitimized by notions of building a beautiful, breathable, and orderly city. Although angry about their unfair treatment in the eviction process, residents ultimately support this discourse of beauty. They challenge eviction through individual squabbles over compensation rates, land measurements, and resettlement sites. In the process, dissent becomes atomized and residents reproduce a mode of valuing land based primarily on monetary value. In this context, notions of beauty, despite having counterhegemonic potential, reproduce rather than challenge core ideals legitimizing the project.