More Than Love on the Horizon
After four weeks, lots of conversations and translations, hard work, and even some tears, we installed the More Than Love on the Horizon exhibition. We opened the show featuring my hologram project and the work of six community artists at Nha San Collective to an enthusiastic audience of over 200 people.
Among our honored guests, Michele Peregrin from U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Shamsher Virk from ZERO1, and U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius.
We even had an Asian American Queer delegation from Los Angeles. Well, not an official delegation, but I was thrilled that my friends flew in from Los Angeles to show support.
But honestly, the most distinguished guest at our opening event was my mom. I’m sure when I came out to her 22 years ago, she had no idea what the future would hold for me. I can only hope I have made her proud with this opportunity to come back to her country and work with local LGBTQ community to tell their stories.
I loved that my mom came to help out. She cooked for the community artists while they were installing and even helped with the art installation.
When she met the Ambassador, her words were particularly evocative for me. My mom, the wife of a career Foreign Service Officer and mother of an openly queer daughter, leaned over and said to Ambassador Osius, one of only five openly gay Ambassadors in the U.S. State Department, "We have been waiting a long time for you."
In my remarks, my first thank you went out to the U.S Department of State. Thanks to the U.S. Department of State, my parents met, married, and made me. Years later, as a Fulbright Fellow, I was afforded the opportunity to meet many of the contemporary artists in Vietnam, a crucial step for my development as an artist post graduate school. The connections I made during my Fulbright were vital in the production of this project. Now, as an American Arts Incubator artist, I was able to return to Vietnam to complete this project that for me, as a Queer Mixed Race Vietnamese American woman, is so close to my heart. I was able to take my experience as an artist and community organizer and engage in social practice — facilitating workshops with LGBTQ community members to incubate creative strategies that address LGBTQ visibility and equality in Vietnam. Everything has come full circle for me.
I’m so proud of the work our community artists contributed to exploring LGBTQ visibility. Here are the projects and some photos from the opening party.
Community Artists Project Installations in the Gallery
Bùi Hoàng Long – Hanoi LoveHANOI LOVE
is a video series depicting stories of love and acceptance from the LGBTQ community and their families, friends, and lovers. The series shows that people identifying as LGBTQ are children, friends, and family members, who are the same as everybody else and should not be excluded from society.
Follow Long's work on Humans of Hanoi.
Check out some of these powerful videos:
Đinh Nhung - Mapping Queer Hanoi
Nhung has mapped queer spaces in Hanoi that are personal but also communal, especially of the older generation living in Hanoi. By making this map, Nhung wanted to learn more about hidden personal histories and create an opportunities for those stories and histories to be shared and made visible. Ultimately, sharing the connections and memory maps of different special places in Hanoi, she hopes we expand our love to each other and to the city.
You can find a deeper interactive experience of Nhung's maps with "then and now" photos of some of the spaces she has mapped around the city. She is continuing to add content.
Ian Quee and Quyên Quyên - Ế
Ian and Quyên make “Ế”, a queer art and literary zine. As queers, they reject the notion that a straight relationship and its trappings (marriage, nuclear family, male-female roles, etc.) are the “default." They convey this message through original and curated art, photography, short stories, poetry, and pop culture reviews.
and download your own copy.
Vũ Kiều Oanh – Shelter of LGBTQ
"Vùng an toàn rộng mở - Shelter of LGBTQ," initiated by Vu Kieu Oanh and Group 6+ is collecting stories waiting to be heard. Stories by members of the LGBTQ community who suffered abuse and encountered prejudice in the past but still respect and love themselves. The stories are presented as audio files and Oanh has built a “safe shelter” which resembles a public booth in which members of the audience to recount and record their own stories.
Keep up to date with LGBTQ events in Hanoi by following 6+ on Facebook.
Nguyễn Quang Duy - #VNLGBTQ247
#VNLGBTQ247 uses photos taken and provided by the Vietnamese LGBTQ to tell stories about their everyday life. The project utilizes digital tools, cameras, and smart phones, which most people have these days to record the moments and social media including Facebook and Instagram to spread the word.
Keep tabs on this campign to show LGBTQ life in Vietnam by liking the page and following #VNLGBTQ247 on Facebook and Instagram.
Lê Đức Anh - Điểm Chạm Cầu Vồng
“Touched by the Rainbow” is an action campaign to increase the visibility of the LGBTQ community in Vietnam to eliminate the gap between the LGBTQ community and mainstream society. By creating the hashtag #diemchamcauvong (“touched by the rainbow”) Anh hopes members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters can share spaces where they feel free and comfortable.
Find #diemchamcauvong on Facebook and Instagram.
Yen Nguyen - Documentation of the Process
We are so fortunate to have had the indomitable Yen Nguyen documenting our whole process from beginning to end. She was integral to our workshop process, holgram film shoot, work with community artists. Her photos of the incubator and process frame the entire project.
More Than Love on the Horizon: Queer Projections.
And last but not least my own project, More Than Love on the Horizon: Queer Projections. In thinking about how to project an image of Queer Vietnamese to increase visibility and further Vietnamese LGBTQ equality, I thought about ways that images are projected. I thought about holograms. Holograms have both optical presence and special quality as they mix reflections with the scene beyond. Holograms are a “window with memory." Holograms are visually complex and multidimensional and challenge our perceptions. Holograms illustrate the Queer space-time continuum in that they are a projection of how the past imagined the future, but in the present time. Princess Leia and her hologram message inspired me, and to be honest, Princess Leia was one of my first crushes. In the past, Star Wars projected in idea of what the future would look like. I chose to use the past’s version of the future’s technology, holograms, to record the present and imagine what an LGBTQ future for Vietnam might look like. The holograms operate as a way to telegraph and transmit an image of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Queer Vietnamese. Holograms also serve as a metaphor for queer desire. These holograms also make these images of LGBTQ Vietnamese accessible to those who may not see this community in a critical mass and highlight those who get to participate in a glittery ghostly presence.
Using DIY holograms, I project the future while figuring the past and centering LGBTQ Vietnamese in the present. Selections of the holograms were installed in the gallery space. The collection of hologram videos can be accessed via the website and here are the instructions to make your own DIY hologram projector.
I was humbled to hear these stories of everyday life of LGBTQ Vietnamese. I was honored to be able to share their dreams, and their own projections of what Queer Vietnamese future would look like. I was moved to bear witness to these narratives of courage and resistance. One participant spoke of her experience as a transgender woman. To build community and create visibility, she and a few other trans women started a group -- Ruby Girls -- and started doing fashion shows at cafes. One time, during one of the Ruby Girls fashion shows, the police raided. Out of concern for her friend, the café owner, who she knew was not out, she offered herself instead. When the police loaded her into the paddywagon they insisted that she sit down. She shared that, in an act of resistance, she refused their orders. She stood in all her glamour in the back of the truck refusing to sit. She knew they weren’t doing anything wrong or illegal by having these fashion shows. She also wanted to there to be some public accountability, so that people would see that she was being arrested and they would know where she was in the event she was “disappeared” a fate that has befallen numerous bloggers and advocates for democracy in Vietnam.
The centerpiece of my project was an upbeat dance piece featuring LGBTQ Vietnamese community dancing along to the song Amazing by Hi Fashion. The song really spoke to me as a queer Vietnamese American woman. That no matter what judgements others may hold about us, as Queer, gender queer, transgender people we are “amazing.” With that spirit we can be courageous and bold and fabulous.
Indeed, we may have been too fabulous for Vietnam, our show was shut down by the Cultural Police the very next morning. Maybe they were mad they didn't get an invitation to the partay. But, seriously, censorship is still a major issue in Vietnam and, in the shadow of the 30/4 Liberation holiday, the goverment often extends its net of power as widely as possible. Most unconventional ideas, resistance to the status quo, democracy activists and bloggers get caught in the party net - an illustration of the well deserved scrutiny of Vietnam's government for Human Rights abuses. But we remain courageous and bold and, well, everything is online! All the projects and videos are housed on the website: www.vietnammorethanlove.com.
The hashtag campaigns continue.The Vietnamese LGBTQ community is gaining visibility and hopefully equality follows suit. Because we know we’re amazing.
Thanks and Glittering Gratitude
This whole project could not have been possible without the help of many people, most of whom are not self-identified LGBTQ. These people took time to dedicate to the success of not just our workshops, my hologram project, the community artist projects and opening night, but to invest in the future of LGBTQ Vietnamese. We are so grateful to our allies in the movement.
A great big thank you to all those who helped pull this project together. A complete list of those we owe deep gratitude is on our site.
We just wrapped our Community Panel Review and, wow, I can’t believe this... I was worried we wouldn’t have enough interest, but instead of four proposals we had six! The house was packed with community members and artists. The panelists were so thrilled today to hear the proposals for the creative community projects, each proposing to highlight the issue of LGBTQ visibility and equality in Vietnam in a unique way. Much gratitude to our partners Nhà Sàn Collective and U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, the Exchange Programs - U.S. Department of State and ZERO1 for creating such a successful event. Thank you to our amazing panelists Clayton Bond, Nguyễn Quốc Thành, Truong Que Chi, and Tran Phuong Thao for such insightful feedback for the artists. Extra special thank yous to our producer Linh Phan and Production Assistant Maia Do for making it all happen! And to the translators facilitating mutual understanding -- not always an easy task. Super loud shout out to our fabulous photographer Yen Nguyen for documenting the afternoon. I can't wait to see all the projects come into being, and to share the experience of LGBTQ life in Vietnam at our Aprill 22nd exhibition at Nha San Collective.
More photos of the panel can be seen in this Facebook album.
Here are the community artists who will be working hard in the next two weeks to highlight the visibility of LGBTQ community in Vietnam.
Meet our community artists and their projects:
Bùi Hoàng Long
Hoang Long is an independent filmmaker and a photographer who has a keen interest in community engagement projects. He has over 2 years of experience working as a social worker helping street children and the homeless in Hanoi. His works revolve around the lives of vulnerable people in the society with the desire to give them a voice.
Bùi Hoàng Long’s project "HANOI LOVE" shares beautiful messages about LGBTQ love in Hanoi. And just like any other types of love, it has its own distinct qualities.
Nhung Dinh graduated from Clark University, USA in 2013 with a master degree in International Development for Social Change, is one of the main curators and organizers of the “Unstraight” exhibitions in Vietnam, “The Cabinet” (Hanoi of March 2015), and “Love, Pain and History” (Saigon, April 2011). In 2015, Nhung was a consultant of several projects including collecting stories and making an online queer archive in Vietnam, as well as LGBTQ exhibitions and archive projects in Cambodia, Serbia, and Russia. She collected stories of transgender people’s livelihood options and HIV risks in Vietnam in September 2015.
One of Nhung’s story-collecting methods, which she has been using consistently since 2010, is to invite communities to create art works inspired by their life experiences and tell their stories that relate to sexuality and violence as well as several taboo and sensitive topics. Currently she leads a Vagina Talks project and is working on a Vietnamese queer lexicon.
Đinh Thị Nhung's project "Vừa đi vừa kể // Roadside Stories" creates a map of queer space, time, and feelings. This is a part of her ongoing project of archiving queer culture in Vietnam.
Vũ Kiều Oanh
Oanh Kieu, based in Hanoi, is interested in the culture of the LGBT community, sexual health, and Mother goddess religion. In 2012, she made an over 2,000km cycling trip across Vietnam to bring a message of support for LGBT community. She is a founding member of 6+ (six plus) - an independent organization that connects the LGBT community and supports their health. She holds meetings to share knowledge about sexual diversity at universities and organizations. She also provides psychological counseling for LGBT people and PFLAG. She is a mentor of one of their programs to develop the leadership capacity of young LGBT people and activities in the other regions. From 2013 to date, she has been a core member of the organizing committee of VietPride - the largest pride festival for the LGBT community in Vietnam.
Shelter for LGBTQ:
Vũ Kiều Oanh and Group 6+ are inviting members of the LGBTQ community to share their experiences, points of view and desires, to expand the safe queer universe of their project "Vùng an toàn rộng mở - Shelter for LGBTQ". In that shelter, voices are heard and stories of abuse, prejudice, and love are waiting to be shared.
Ian Quee and Quyên Nguyễn
Quyên Quyên and Ian Quee met at an LGBTQ visibility workshop in Hanoi and decided to make a zine together. It’s a collection of comics, poetry, low-key art and film reviews. The first issue is titled Ế/Unsold and deals with gender and identity questions/thoughts/jokes.
Ian Quee is trained in the science of psychology. In reality, it's part of his scheme of becoming a better artist.
Quyên Quyên studies a mixed bag of literature and art history at Stanford University.
Nguyễn Quang Duy
Quang Duy is 30 years old and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. With his project called “VNLGBTQ247” he is looking to maximize the visibility of the LGBTQ community all over Hanoi as well as the rest of Vietnam. By inviting people to participate in taking photos, checking in on Instagram, and sharing posts on Facebook using hashtag #VNLGBTQ247, he intends to provide society with a better and closer look at the life of the LGBTQ community.
Nguyễn Quang Duy is launching a social media project. The project titled "#vnlgbtq247" will fill their Facebook page with images depicting everyday life of LGBTQ people with the hashtag #VNLGBTQ247.
Lê Đức Anh
Le Duc Anh is currently a student at Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities. His project “Touched by the Rainbow” is an action campaign to maximize the visibility of the LGBTQ community in Hanoi through Instagram. By showing short video clips made by members of the community, we hope to eliminate prejudice and homophobia.
Lê Đức Anh’s social media project "Touched by the Rainbow // Điểm chạm cầu vồng" records the LGBTQ landscape with short video clips made by members of the LGBTQ community that are then posted on Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #diemchoncaucong
Having arrived in Hanoi, we had only one day to settle in and wrap up any loose ends for pre-production. We lost our production assistant and workshop location space at the last minute and were scrambling to do location scouting. As I always say, if you aim for failure you can only succeed. We were starting at a loss so it could only get better. Gratefully, we found a space in the same building as Nha San Collective on the top floor. The [REC] Room is a music space just opened by a really tall Danish expat, Jørn Wind, and a Vietnamese musician, Trang Le, but her nickname is Chuoi (banana). They are hosting sound experiments and punk rock bands and other music. With a wide open area and movable walls, the space worked out for our workshops AND as a space to film my hologram project.
We had a small but eager turnout for my artist talk on Friday. Nha San Collective hosted the talk in their space. I showed some of my work, posing the questions: What makes art Queer? Is the artwork Queer because I am a Queer-identified artist? Is the artwork Queer if it figures Queer people as the subjects? Is artwork Queer if it queers our understanding of the dominant landscape in some way?
Really wonderful questions about the artistic process and themes of “failure” and the “Queer horizon.”
We wrapped up our week of workshops with local LGBTQ participants in Hanoi reflecting on the many challenges encountered; some we were able to resolve and some remained. We had such a strong showing in our workshop enrollment numbers and yet actual turnout was about 60%. I’m told these are good numbers for Hanoi but it’s frustrating when people seem excited, they go through the steps of registering and even with follow up emails, reminder phone calls and texts end up not showing up. I'm sure there are many reasons why. I can't help but wonder if it has to do with the sensitivity of the topic. Although, it simply may be unusual culturally for Vietnamese to take a week to participate in a workshop, even if it is free. It is my understanding after talking to many people that in Vietnam it is often expected that workshop participants are paid for their time. (I wish I could get paid to go to workshops.)
It has been wonderful to meet LGBTQ activists and community members here in Hanoi. I am learning so much about the contemporary issues that the community faces, both the struggles and the joys. The group of participants is fairly young; the average age is about 21. We are all getting to know each other and exploring the issues in the community together.
We spent quite a bit of time mapping the landscape of LGBTQ Vietnam and while Vietnam has made some recent advances including decriminalizing same-sex marriage and legislating some protections for Transgender rights, there is much that has yet to change. The biggest change ahead is social -- the cultural and gender norms and expectations here make it incredibly challenging for LGBTQ Vietnamese.
Participants talked about a variety of issues that go beyond same-sex marriage, including lack of sex education, lack of job protections, access to healthcare, bathroom accessibility, and other issues that affect the community. Many particpants felt strongly about having a family and were concerned about what their options might be for the future.
As we got to know one another in these workshops, I could tell participants were clearly feeling outside their comfort zones. Most people don’t run around the room making animal noises or moving like their favorite food. My approach to performance is not a familiar one to many people in the U.S., let alone here in Vietnam!
I am looking forward to working with the workshop participants to identify creative solutions to the issues they have detailed. I am looking forward to queering the landscape with this community.
It worked! I was able to make the DIY projector device in about 30 minutes with just recycled plastic, an exact-o knife, some tape, and a ruler. Our esteemed mentors were just as excited as I am about this simple DIY technology as a way to share the voices of Vietnam’s LGBTQ community.
I am looking forward to collectively identifying and creating strategies to amplify these stories. To reflect on contemporary LGBTQ Vietnam and what an imagined future could look like for the community, I hope to ask project participants to share their visions for Queer Vietnam’s Future.