F.O.B II: ART SPEAKS
In January 2009, curators Trâm Lê and Lan Dương organized an art exhibit called F.O.B. II: Art Speaks [Nghệ Thuật Lên Tiếng]. The exhibit, scheduled for January 9 to 18, was sponsored VAALA. Showcasing the work of over fifty visual and performance artists, F.O.B. II illuminated the diversity of political and aesthetic perspectives in the Vietnamese and diasporic artistic communities. The artworks dealt with sexuality, identity, refugee histories, and contemporary political issues like Obama’s presidency and Proposition 8 in California. On the second day of the exhibit’s opening, the Los Angeles Times published an article about the exhibit that focused mainly on the polarities of communism and anticommunism that the exhibit supposedly depicted. Further emphasizing this notion was the accompanying photograph of a work by Vietnamese American artist Brian Đoàn that was part of the exhibit, a diptych that included images of the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam’s flag and a bust of Hồ Chí Minh.
Soon after the Los Angeles Times article was disseminated, mainly through the internet, the curators and VAALA Executive Director, Ysa Lê, were besieged by criticism, obscene phone calls, and threats of a protest by members of the Vietnamese American community. As the days passed, the art exhibit galvanized many groups from around the world to demonstrate against our art show (there were as many as eighty signatories on one Internet discussion forum). The most vocal group was Thanh Niên Cờ Vàng (Youths for the Yellow Flag) who rallied many of the protestors online and through town hall meetings. In addition to Brian Đoàn’s diptych, other works in the exhibit deemed offensive by protestors were Steven Toly’s By Land, By Air, or By Sea and his Untitled. Huỳnh Châu’s works were also the objects of debate. A year before our exhibit, Châu’s artwork had already sparked controversy. Her work, which included a footbath and featured a southern Vietnamese flag on the bottom of it, was considered disrespectful. Long Bùi’s Super Fab Beauty Queen caused a lot of consternation as well. These works were understood by the protestors to collectively denigrate the southern Vietnamese regime and to propagandize for the communist regime in Vietnam.
The event was discussed in numerous national and international forums, and provoked a demonstration with hundreds of people at the site of the exhibit, even after the exhibit had already been forced to shut down because of community politics and the actions of local politicians. Some of these politicians are Trần Thái Văn and José Solorio; both sent letters to VAALA and advocated that the organization take down the offending art. Some members of the community also sought to denigrate the art exhibit by vandalizing the work, spitting on them, scratching them, spray painting three of the works, and finally, by putting women’s underwear and a maxi pad on Brian Đoàn’s diptych. In the aftermath of the exhibit and the controversy it raised, VAALA’s internal relations were also severely tested as a result; 2 Board members stepped down and 3 members of the Screening Committee for the Vietnamese International Film Festival resigned.
The exhibition showcased the following artists: Alex Chinh Nguyen, Ann Phong, Binh Danh, Brian Doan, Charlie Nguyen, Chau Thuy Huynh, Dao Hai Trieu, Debbie Nguyen, Demon Slayer Family (Dan Duy Nguyen + Mailan Thi Pham), Do Le Anhdao, Ham Tran, Hiep Nguyen, Hong-An Truong, Jenni Trang Le, Kiep Nao Co Yeu Nhau Musical by Duy Tam, Lan Hoang Vu, Lan Tran, Le T. Que Huong, Llouquet Sandrine, Long Nguyen, Long T. Bui, Nam Quan Nguyen, Ngoc Vo Arps, Nguyen Huy Loc, Nguyen Khai, Nguyen Quoc Thanh, Nguyen Trong Khoi, Nguyen Van He, Nguyen Viet Hung, Nhan Duc Nguyen, Roland Nguyen, Saigon 1, Steven Toly, Taylur Thu Hien Ngo, Tran Tien Dung, Truong Chinh Ngoc, Tuan Kien Nguyen, UuDam Nguyen, Vi Ly, Viet Le, Vuong Van Thao, YLW (Young Leading Women), and more…
documents pertaining to exhibition events