Home Magazine The Tiffany Chung’maps at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Another example of art related to modern migration...

For a long time, artists have been trying to give their own visual answer to the complicated problem of migration. And when we say “migration” we are not talking about “immigration”, that seems the only concern of who seems to want specular on this contemporary drama.

When we talk about "migration", we talk about the fact that too many people have sought asylum in the last 30 years, due to political, economic and ethical reasons. In this big noise, where fear and suspicions about the stranger emerge more and more every day, most of us seem to forget that in all the world there’s been, and there will be, a constant migration, often with no relation with the African continent.


Tiffany Chung, Reconstructing on Exodus History: boat trajectories in Asia, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art


Fortunately, there are many artists that create a link to the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism - ever since the eighties, they have tried to keep track of these different movements and corresponding impacts... One of them is the Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung, now the protagonist of the exhibition "Vietnam, Past Is Prologue" on view from March 15 through September 2 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Curated by Sarah Newman, this solo show makes a history hidden in plain sight for the past forty-five years visible. Indeed, her subject, the War in Vietnam (1955–1975), has achieved a nearly mythic significance in the United States. In Vietnam, “the War” devastated life as it had been known, dividing time into a “before” and “after.” But still missing from the narratives told by these two sides is the perspective of the South Vietnamese, on whose behalf the Americans entered the war. 


Remapping History: an autopsy of a battle an excavation of man's past (detail) 2015/2019. Courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art 


Tiffany Chung, The Vietnam Exodus History Learning Project: the exodus, the compass and the half - lived, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins fine 


This meticulous research is related to the artist's origin and her personal story. Tiffany Chung was born in 1968 in the city of Da Nang (Vietnam), the place from which she had to run away with her family during the so-called "Vietnamese diaspora" (1975) which involved more than 200,000 people, after the taking over of President Ho Chi Minh, and consequently victory of North Vietnam at the expense of the South. "Vietnam, Past Is Prologue" probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath through maps, videos, and paintings that highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees. Through this work, Chung documents accounts that have largely been left out of official histories of the period and begins to tell an alternative story of the war’s ideology and effects.

A centerpiece of the exhibition is a new series of video interviews with former Vietnamese refugees who live in Houston, Southern California, and Northern Virginia that was commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Through meticulously drawn and stitched maps, emotional interviews, and intensive archival research, Chung explores the experience of refugees who were part of the large-scale immigration during the post-1975 exodus from Vietnam. She begins with a fine-grained look into one person’s story—that of her father, who fought for the South Vietnamese military during the war, widens out to encompass the stories of former refugees from Vietnam, and pulls out further still to show the global effects of their collective migration in the war’s wake.


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