Opening: Fri 18 Nov 2022, 06 pm – 09 pm
Exhibition: 18 Nov – 07 Dec 2022
Craig Thomas Gallery
27(i) Trần Nhật Duật, Tân Định Ward, District 1, HCMC
From the organizer:
The geometry and poetic symmetry of Nguyen Trong Minh’s paintings are among the first things that catches one’s eye when seeing his work. Rows of identically dressed groups of student-age men and women are frequently depicted sitting or standing in various meditative or seemingly obedient poses that speak to the acceptance or the successful imposition of a certain uniformity of purpose or mind-set. The clothing worn is most often traditional of the northern region of the country while also prominently featuring school uniforms indicating both a sense of submission or pedagogical intent.
In his Human Chess collection, Minh seems to be evolving into a less austere and didactic style of composition towards something more whimsical and playful. The artist says, “The title of the collection is inspired by the woodcarving art which is found on old Vietnamese communal houses and pagodas in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam. This art depicts the common leisure activities of Vietnamese people like playing chess, wrestling, buffalo fighting, tiger hunting, drinking and going to sing at the Mandarin’s house. Among the many types of chess played is human chess where people are used as pieces on the chessboard.” These activities are satirically but affectionately reproduced in many of the paintings of the Human Chess collection.
Minh’s depictions of rows of Vietnamese youths wearing their traditional school uniforms in his paintings is born of his three-year stint working as a high school teacher in Lao Cai Province where he identified significant flaws in the country’s educational system. Minh says, “These include studying and teaching just for grades and certificates rather than for real knowledge. This rigid type of instruction creates individuals with identical ways of thinking almost as if they were clones. I used the concept of cloning in creating many of my paintings.” The arrayed youths in his tableaus are thus a comment on the conformity and lack of individuality fostered by Vietnam’s institutions.
The paintings of Minh’s “Human Chess” collection see the artist continuing to iterate on his core concept and themes but also to substantially evolve and deal with larger issues raised by the rapid opening and development of Vietnamese society which has a tendency to highlight conflicts between native traditions and more modern imported practices. Many of the pieces in the new collection evince a light dusting of sensuality or even sexual playfulness in a nod to the modern Vietnam as opposed to the more staid social mores prevailing in the country several decades ago.
Some works such as Chess Position II are indicative of Minh’s sensitivity to the unique socio-political position Vietnam inhabits on the world stage. The country’s unique history predetermines that it must play its roll on the chess board of international affairs with reference to both its recent and distant past. This tightrope walk is not unlike the one Vietnamese contemporary visual artists like Nguyen Trong Minh must make as they seek to reconcile the influences of the modern international art world and the millennia-long cultural history of their native land.