Split between two venues of the Nguyen Art Foundation, Nguyễn Thị Thanh Mai’s latest exhibition, “No More, Not Yet,” brokers a meeting between the artist’s personal and collective practices. The works on display in the Nam Long campus trace Tonlé Sap lake’s population of stateless paracitizens, who have been accepted by neither Vietnam nor Cambodia. In the ongoing series “Disappearing Landscapes,” 2017–, photographs of makeshift houses are UV-printed onto driftwood, scraps of old buildings, or kindling collected from their inhabitants’ last point of origin. Nguyễn dyes the cracked, peeling surfaces of the wood in various shades of blue, from aquamarine to periwinkle, rendering the images even more doleful. In Black Landscapes, 2018–20, a single-channel video guides us through a series of dusky, neon-lit sites where floating residences used to be anchored along the Mekong. These haunting landscapes are accompanied by the soundtrack of an old shaman’s scratchy prayer for fish to return to the lake, rendering all the more acute the absence of the houses’ inhabitants—now persistent apparitions who invite us to contemplate the porous validity of national borders.
At the Van Phuc campus, the narrative flow shifts tempo as Nguyễn and almost twenty of her artist friends engage with the working-class communities that once lived on the fringes of Hue’s Imperial Citadel but were dislocated as part of the city’s “clean-up” after the Citadel received UNESCO World Heritage status. The ongoing collaborative project Edge of the Citadel, initiated in 2021, extends the artists’ site-specific practice through a collection of found objects left behind by uprooted families. Works like Hoàng Ngọc Tú’s Seen, unseen, 2022, an arrangement of overlapping house number plates; Nguyễn Văn Hè’s Rebirth, 2022, a sculptural installation of five brick pillars; and Xuân Hạ’s Concentrated, 2022, an overturned table covered with soil and roots, all serve to immerse viewers in a peripheral realm where mementos of the displaced are reborn as questions around the precariousness of belonging.