PDN Photo of the Day

A Vietnam Memorial

Born in Hue, Vietnam, Pipo Nguyen-Duy moved to the U.S. as a political refugee in 1975 when he was in his teens. Since 2005, when he returned for the thirtieth anniversary of the re-unification of North and South Vietnam, he has been creating photography and video projects that explore reconciliation, nationalism, memory and the aftermath of the war. His exhibition at ClampArt, “(My) East of Eden,” features large-scale prints of tableaux he staged in the Vietnamese countryside. Local boys and girls dressed in identical school uniforms enact scenes and rituals in rice paddies, lush fields and forests. Nguyen-Duy, who heard gunfire almost every day as a child, says the series was his effort to reclaim his childhood and the fantasies of his youth, and to create a narrative “about a delicate attempt to rebuild a once destroyed paradise.”

The children in his photos look solemn, the scenes are quiet and calm, yet they convey a sense of menace. A boy and girl sit on the bank of a duck pond which has formed in a crater made by a bomb. Through the window of an abandoned building we see a boy, holding a toy airplane and looking melancholy. In another photograph, two boys stand knee-deep in water, the boy on the left baptizes the boy on the right with water dribbled from a bowl. Nguyen-Duy’s large, richly saturated prints give viewers the sense they are looking into a world of rituals and games the children have created for themselves in a landscape that still bears the scars of conflict.

Nguyen-Duy describes “(My) East of Eden” as the third chapter in a larger project in which he uses landscapes as a theater where he lets his ideas about past and present play out. He began the first chapter, “Garden of Eden,” in the U.S. after September 11. He contrasts his idealized view of America as an Eden-like paradise with the sense of vulnerability Americans felt after the terrorist attack. For “East of Eden,” which he photographed in Vietnam, he made portraits of people who—like Nguyen-Duy’s own brother, a soldier in the South Vietnamese army—had been maimed during the Vietnam War. Of the three chapters, “(My) East of Eden” is the most personal and the most imaginative. The show will be accompanied by a smaller installation, in a side gallery at ClampArt, of Nguyen-Duy’s series still in progress, “Hotel Windows.” With a camera placed by the window of a hotel room in Vietnam, he has captured scenes in the alley below. Though objective and documentary, the images are another reflection on his status as a visitor in the nation of his birth.

—Holly Stuart Hughes

“(My) East of Eden”
March 14 through April 27

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