The Art of Mixing: Biên Hòa Ceramics and the Question of Craft and Nation

Lunchtime talk by the Los Angeles-based scholar Nguyễn-Võ Thu-hương.

Both mainstream art history and the global art market typically separate art from craft, relegating the latter to tradition. Nation states rely on these notions of traditional cultural forms to symbolise the nation and promote a tourist economy. This talk focuses on the case of Biên Hoà ceramics in southern Vietnam to think through the complex histories and contemporary fates that defy the separation of art and craft.

Biên Hoà is known for innovative pottery that dates back to the 1670s with Chinese and Vietnamese settlements in what was part of the Cham and Khmer empires. Since its opening in 1903, the École des Arts Appliqué de Biên Hòa spearheaded a new phase in the region’s ceramics in the 20th century—becoming known for its mix of Khmer, Cham, Chinese, French, and other artistic sensibilities in bridging items of everyday use and objects of art. Such artisanal and artistic skills gained international attention during this time, but now fill subcontracted orders for Ikea and other retailers. Setting this eclectic aesthetic in the contexts of empire, capital, and migration revises understandings of both art practices and national traditions.

A conversation with AAA Researcher Chương-Đài Võ and a Q&A session to follow. A light lunch will also be served.

Nguyễn-Võ Thu-hương is Associate Professor in Asian Languages and Cultures, and Asian American Studies at University of California, Los Angeles. She is working on a book project on necropolitical events and their mediation in Vietnamese postcolonial and diasporic contexts. Among her publications are The Ironies of Freedom: Sex, Culture, and Neoliberal Governance in Vietnam (University of Washington Press, 2008); ‘Epitaphic Nation: The Problem of the South and Necropolitics in Early Modern Vietnamese Literature’ in PMLA (2011); and ‘Iterant Remains: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Mediating the Necropolitical Event’ in Chorégraphies Suspendues (Musée d’art contemporain Carré d’art, 2014).

Relevant content

Image: Lê Trọng Lân, Anh bộ đội [Soldier], 1981, woodblock print, 50 x 60 cm
Vietnam: The Making of the Modern and the Contemporary
Learning & Participation

Vietnam: The Making of the Modern and the Contemporary

WATCH: This talk unpacks and examines modern and contemporary art in Vietnam in relation its colonial history.