Episode 34: Dinh Q. Lê

(un)making

Episode 34: Dinh Q. Lê

By Weston Teruya October 10, 2018

Weston Teruya welcomes artists, arts administrators, and cultural workers of color to get real about their lives, practices, and careers. Each episode is an in-depth look into how art gets made, but more importantly how these folks are seeing to the system of art’s (UN)making.


In this (un)making episode, we talk with Ho Chi Minh City-based artist, curator, and cultural organizer Dinh Q. Lê. Lê is probably best known for his photo weavings that interlace Western representations of the American war in Vietnam, from Hollywood films to photojournalists’ documentation. His use of a traditional mat weaving technique, taught to him by his aunt, breaks apart and reassesses those fragmentary depictions through a Vietnamese lens.

Along with those iconic pieces, Lê has explored issues of migration, trauma, collective memory, and global conflict through videos and photographs. We spoke briefly about one of the pieces, The Colony, which mixes drone footage of guano mining on the Chincha islands, video of Chinese vessels harassing Vietnamese boats in the South China Sea, and standoffs between the US and Chinese planes in international airspace to explore the human and ecological impact of global capital against the backdrop of the continuing neo-imperial struggles for territory and control.

Our discussion of his current solo exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art, True Journey is Return, serves as a jumping off point for a conversation about the forced departure of Vietnamese refugees in the wake of the American War in Vietnam and the return of many in the community to the home of their births, including Lê himself. We talk about how these journeys have impacted his work and expanded his worldview, the visual strategies he uses to contend with images, and the rebuilding of collective cultural memories.

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Dinh Q. Lê was born in 1968 in Hà Tiên, Vietnam. His family left war-torn Vietnam in 1978 and settled in southern California. Lê grew up in Los Angeles, studied Fine Arts at UC Santa Barbara and holds an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York. In 1996, he moved from New York to Ho Chi Minh City where he now resides, and where in 2007 he co-founded Sàn Art, an artist-run exhibition space and reading room that promotes young Vietnamese artists. He has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and DOCUMENTA.

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