States of the Arts


stored in a jar: monsoon, drowning fish, color of water, and the floating world

by Tiffany Chung
Installation art, mixed media

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Raging weather, a dying animal, life-sustaining liquid, and an autonomous ecosystem. Each item listed in the title of Tiffany Chung’s stored in a jar conjures up a vivid dream of life spent afloat. The artwork assembles an imagined community, its features drawn from the collective experience of its proposed proponents. It acts as an attractive, sustainable model for residential change. The clumps of homes suspended from the gallery ceiling are kitted out with solar panels, circled by lush gardens, and sit alongside a busy boat park. In this buoyant world, the artist sees the future of aquatic settlements.

Words by Hugh Maloney

Buffalo Boy

directed by Minh Nguyen-Vo
Feature film

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The land is flooded. Isolated houses and trees, adrift in vast swathes of water, seem to hover without footing. Blue masses engulf our field of vision. A narrow, distant strip of land bisects the screen, a world caught in limbo by water and sky. Wading, a determined boy traverses the vista, hauling two great, loyal animals through the wet work of the rain season, pursuing a mountain where grass for starving buffalo always thrives. The creatures are essential for agriculture; livelihoods, as well as livestock, are at stake. As parents worry, confined at home, the life of our young protagonist is transformed.

Words by Hugh Maloney

Paradise of the Blind

by Duong Thu Huong

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As the protagonist of Paradise of the Blind travels to Moscow to visit her sick uncle, the journey frames her memories. These recollections are vestiges of a now-distant existence, their ordering guided by emotional potency rather than linear chronology. The weary reminiscences give rise to haunting tales of torment, in which ideological discrepancies lead to family tragedies. Duong Thu Huong laments loyalties to burdensome values, opposing the sacrifice of personal wellbeing at what she considers to be hollow altars. Her stance proved controversial; the novel remains banned in Vietnam, where its political allegories are seen unfavourably by many.

Words by Hugh Maloney


by Trinh Công Son

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‘Why do you sleep at the age of twenty?’ a bereaved mother asks her fallen son. She repeats the anguished question many times, but is never answered. ‘Lullaby’ is a cradle song, but one imbued with wretched irony. It relates to us the thoughts of a mourning parent, who wants anything but rest for her child. Trinh Công Son’s quivering vocal delivery channels her grief, while his undulating guitar work forms a rocking rhythm. In this context, though, the motion is not soothing, but bleak. The song is one of many anti-war ballads that helped to win Son widespread admiration in his home country.

Words by Hugh Maloney

More to discover

stored in a jar: You can view more images of the artwork on the Women Artists website. Lien Truong has written about Tiffany Chung for diaCRITICS, as have Ruben Luong for ArtAsiaPacific, and Cristina Nualart for Word Vietnam. The artist has given a presentation for Asia Art Archive in America, which was transcribed by Jin Calello.

Buffalo Boy: Manohla Dargis has reviewed the film for The New York Times, as have Celeste Heiter for Things Asian, and Will Kirkland for All in One Boat.

Paradise of the Blind: Alan Riding has interviewed Duong Thu Huong for The New York Times. Elizabeth Jackson has analysed the novel here. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer has reviewed the book for The LA Times, as have Amy Thanh Nguyen for The Harvard Crimson, and Will Kirkland for All in One Boat.

Lullaby: You can listen to 'Lullaby' here, read the musician's biography on Enyclopaedia Britannica, and see his obituary on the BBC website.

Question of the day

Which Vietnamese artworks would you recommend, and why?
Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This book gives an intriguing, complex perspective on the Vietnam War’s ideological conflict. (→)

– Lewis Coenen-Rowe, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Patreon →)

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