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Weaving together his Vietnam

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  March 4, 2009 10:15 AM

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Persistence of Memory
"Persistence of Memory #11" by Dinh Q. Le

Photo tapestries explore war and identity

"A Tapestry of Memories: The Art of Dinh Q. Le" at the Tufts University Art Gallery showcases photo weavings by Dinh Q. Le. Globe correspondent Cate McQuaid reviewed the exhibit:

By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent

Dinh Q. Lê learned how to weave mats from his aunt in his Vietnamese hometown of Ha Tien when he was 6 or 7. Decades later he would use the technique to make sense of his life and of the complicated relationship between Vietnam and the United States. Lê was born in 1968, and in 1977 his family fled Vietnam and ultimately settled in Los Angeles.

In "A Tapestry of Memories: The Art of Dinh Q. Lê", Lê borrows images from photojournalism, art history, and film - in particular, American films about the Vietnam War - and creates brilliant large-scale works in which warp and weft narrow and widen and images coalesce and disperse, battling for the eye's attention.

In the series "From Vietnam to Hollywood," he questions to what degree his own memory has drawn on images from movies. "Paramount" (below) revolves around that film company's starry logo, with shots from "Apocalypse Now," "Indochine," and "Heaven & Earth" woven around and through it. Memory, he suggests, is interleaved and fueled by images that may have nothing to do with personal experience.

"Paramount" by Dinh Q. Lê

In other works, he starkly pairs movie stills with iconic black-and-white news photos from the Vietnam War. "Russian Roulette" sets Eddie Adams's chilling image of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon against a background of a parachute drop borrowed from "The Deer Hunter." Lê doesn't weave these images; rather, he makes them into one. But he does weave through that a photo of consumer products - Altoids, Kellogg's cereals, Coca-Cola. It's a bleak, disturbing mix, with each element denoting a different manner of perception. News photos such as Adams's rivet the eye; films hypnotize with story, image, and sound; the products' bright packaging bedazzles.

"Mot Coi Di Ve (Spending One's Life Trying to Find One's Way Home)" (below) isn't exactly a weave; Lê has strung together in a giant, loose grid, hanging from the ceiling like a curtain, scores of found black-and-white photos and postcards inscribed in English or Vietnamese. The piece feels both ephemeral and enveloping, like a chorus of images and voices whispering from the past.

Mot Coi Di Ve
"Mot Coi Di Ve" by Dinh Q. Lê

In his photo weavings and two video installations, Lê, who now lives in Ho Chi Minh City, parses and joins several versions of the story of the war in Vietnam. It's a generous vision that enables us to see how so many threads create a nuanced, always changing tapestry.


A Tapestry of Memories: The Art of Dinh Q. Lê
Through March 29
Tufts University Art Gallery, Aidekman Arts Center
40R Talbot Ave., Medford, 617-627-3518

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