Venus in Vietnam provokes comment

Venus in Vietnam provokes comment

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Goethe Institut Vietnam
Nguyen Nghia Cuong - Venus
A recent visitor to the Venus in Vietnam exhibition sent the Goethe Institut some slightly provocative and very thoughtful comments about the exhibition, and especially about the work of Nguyen Nghia Cuong, and Grapevine has been asked to post the comments here.

Please share your thoughts in the Comment section at the bottom of this post.
You can also read a review of the exhibition by Ilza, one of Grapevine’s regular commentators.
The exhibition runs only until 14 Oct 2012 (this Sunday).


All of the women on Nguyen Nghia Cuong’s boxes provoke the insistent question: what is happening to Vietnamese women – and indeed to women all over the world. What are we and what are we accepting to be?

Colorfully wiggling on the side of a cardboard box, Venus 18 is literally the embodiment of capability. Her limbs are machines churning out wonderful foodstuffs and her pussy is smiling invitingly among it all. “Beautiful and clean” says the writing on her stomach, she is everything a young woman is supposed to be, serving everything a woman should serve – but she has no mouth, no voice, her face is a pale void with large staring eyes, not understanding what is happening to her or what is going on. Venus 18 in only one of the women on Nguyen Nghia Cuong’s boxes, but like all of them she provokes the eyes and the mind with the insistent question of what is happening to Vietnamese women – and indeed to women all over the world. What are we and what are we accepting to be?

I did feel a kind of disappointment when I realized this “Venus in Vietnam” exhibition is the works of only men. Two seconds into the exhibition this is no longer relevant.

Perhaps it’s the fascist in me, but I did feel a kind of disappointment when I realized this “Venus in Vietnam” exhibition is the works of only men. Two seconds into the exhibition this is no longer relevant. A powerful queen spreads her legs in dance and lust on a box of Danish Buttercookies, a fat contorted woman in a tight, striped skirt dances in mysterious elegance on a whisky-box, bulging legs clad in fish-net stockings happily spread to showcase the provocative accessibility of her sun-ray pussy, her breasts flapping in the wind, strength and sex and womanhood oozing from the mundane background of an empty cardboard box.

This is an exhibition that demands a lot of its audience. You have to be able to look a pussy in the eye in order to spend enough time with Cuong’s art to smile at his fabulous imagination and grasp the many layers of thought that created these only on the surface simple works. The box from the cake his wife and daughter gave him for his birthday is now a woman of volume; her generous body displaying the whipped cream delights of her breasts, her nipples ripe red strawberries, her legs inviting and open – and still this empty, question mark stare: who am I – what am I???

Some explanations might help the audience, including the Vietnamese (at least the females..). “2 liters” is some of the text left visible on a box and Coung tells me this is slang for the price of a prostitute, 2 liters being 200.000 vnd. And so changes the meaning of the angel adorning another box, her delicate body and pretty face carried by wings in pale, virginal blue, her sex adorned only with the original writing on the box. “3.2 liters”. Everything has a price.

There are not many men on Cuong’s boxes. One is also an angel, flapping his wings to steal a kiss from one of the strong female figures; a gargantuan, beautiful woman thrice his size. An awesome looking woman on all fours, her huge breasts freely dangling with gravity, carries a small man on her back. “That’s me” says Coung happily and points to the man; his small tender body without distinctions apart from his merrily rigid penis pointing its red tip to the heavens. The woman seems to be paying both him and his obvious happiness no mind, just crawling on as she pleases, tossing her flaming red hair to the wind.

The playful imagination expressing these statements, the strange beauty of fat limbs and contorted bodies, speak volumes to me and makes me ask what woman am I – were I to paint myself on the empty traces of consumerism, would my mouth be silent, would my stare be blank or would I dare to be dancing and dangling, carrying my love on the strength that I believe has been given me? Or am I the Karaoke Venus, the box that greets the visitors as they enter the room, with her loudspeaker breasts and processor hair, her entire body transformed into an entertainment machine, her hairy black pussy marked clearly for easy access against the whiteness of her cardboard skin? And would I wear the pricetag of the apparent angel, or would I like Karaoke Venus need to wear my pussy right next to a grinning skull? And who would actually be in danger; the entertainment-user or me? Cuong’s abundant pussies manage to provoke me deeply about the fate of my gender, the core of my sex. Because yes goddammit, we are pushed and programmed and painted and shaped like colorful boxes produced by the millions. But when it comes down to it, every woman has her price, her dance, her stance. And what shall be mine?

– Anna Pia Hudtloff

Goethe Institut Vietnam
Goethe-Institut Hanoi
56-58 Nguyễn Thái Học
Ba Đình, Hà Nội
Tel.: +84 4 37342251
Fax: +84 4 37342254
[email protected]

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  1. Thanks Anna for a great opinion piece plus sharing some of the artist’s very pertinent comments about his women. I was in the middle of writing my own opinion piece when I came across yours and have stopped for a bit of a re-appraisal.

    Your last paragraph is beautifully provocative.

    Much appreciated and as nicely earthy as Cuong’s intent

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