We love art, especially when it’s full of Vietnamese flair. Bảo Vương is contemporary Vietnamese art personified. After fleeing Vietnam as a baby with his parents by boat, he has returned to discover his roots and explore his past through an artistic journey. His work in an Indochine 2.0 inspiration, and today we speak with him to find out his story, dive into his artistic journey and find out what inspires him the most.
Wink: Thank you for letting us interview you! Can you start by telling us more about who you are and where you came from?
Bảo Vương: I was born in Vietnam, just after the war. I was aged only one when my parents decided to flee Vietnam by sea, following the flow of other Boat People. After spending on year in a refugee camp in Malaysia, my family finally reached France and settled there, where I grew up. After graduating from university, I studied at two art schools before deciding to come back to Vietnam, some 30 years later, and discover my roots.
Wink: What attracted you to art? Did you have any major influences when you were younger?
Bảo Vương: When I was a kid, I was good at drawing and copying paintings. I don’t know how or why, but it came naturally. When I first started studying Fine Art, my teachers watched and often asked me; “Are you talking about Vietnam in your work?” Every time I’d reply, no. It was not my intention at all, but now it is clear that my work reflected a lot to do with the memory of my family.
Wink: Let’s have some quick fire questions. Favorite book?
Bảo Vương: I like Paul Auster or Stefan Zweig.
Wink: Favorite song?
Bảo Vương: I don’t have a favorite song, but I love listening to classical music.
Wink: Favorite Food?
Bảo Vương: My mother’s.
Wink: Favorite Artists?
Bảo Vương: I don’t have a favorite artist, but people tell me that my work is close to the work of Christian Boltanski.
Wink: What made you decide to move back to Vietnam after 30 years living in France?
Bảo Vương: After I finished my studies, I settled in Paris. I worked for a local NGO in the educational sector which required a lot of time and investment. Living in Paris also made it really difficult to find space for a studio, so after 10 years I thought it was time to return to a more artistic lifestyle. I felt that Vietnam had all the assets to allow me to flourish and reconnect to my heritage.
Wink: How has life changed since moving back to Vietnam? Do you prefer life here?
Bảo Vương: The move was the right decision. Vietnam was, for me, a second birth. It allowed me the time and space to create but also the time and space for me to connect to an essential part of who I am. Here I learned the meaning to my life, even though I still miss France, my family and my friends.
Wink: Can you explain the inspiration behind Chapter 1: THROUGH?
Bảo Vương: In the first part of my work in Vietnam, I revisited a buried past. I reinvented images imbued with nostalgia. The separation, the memory of the deceased, the shadows of war are all present in “THROUGH”, and also the beauty of what has been or could have been. I appropriated and diverted Vietnamese items like incense, rice cakes or photographs of my family album.
Wink: What about Chapter 2: THE CROSSING?
Bảo Vương: Currently, I am developing a series of painting entitled “THE CROSSING” where I depict the exile of my family by sea. The paintings are projections of the night we spend out in the open seas, the same nights that hundreds of thousands of refugees have lived through for centuries, forsaken in the dark, without a clue. I use only one color, black paint. It awakens fears and sadness associated with exile, while reflections of light on the paint strikes represents hope, hope that gives birth to a survival instinct, echoing the promise for a better world.
Wink: How did Vietnamese culture or society influence your work?
Bảo Vương: My first inspiration in my work is the stories of my Vietnamese family. I also draw a lot of what surrounds me, for example I am fascinated by the ritual of ancestors, and more broadly, by Vietnamese spiritual beliefs.
Wink: Explain a bit more about the balance you draw between contemporary art and traditional culture?
Bảo Vương: I would like my art to be both. Modern with a new semantic language and unconventional techniques, but easily understandable, beautiful and poetic. I don’t know if I get there every time, but it’s my wish!
Wink: What inspired your mixed medium choices, such as rice paper, sticks and plastic bags?
Bảo Vương: I created hundreds of rice cake masks in a lantern-shaped installation to represent the thousands of Vietnamese who were forced to live in France between the two world wars (Công Binh). They were the first to set up rice growing in France.
Sticks are incense on which a face appears. When I was a kid in France, few things reminded me that I came from another country. The altars of ancestors and incense were one of the only aspects of Vietnamese culture in my life.
Plastic bags represent the simplest form of baggage. When we have to leave the house with urgency, we put all our life in a plastic bag and leave.