Water Feature (Hydra)
The artist states: A lot that has been said about Water Feature III can also be said about Water Feature (Hydra). I also explore the quandary of the cultural diaspora - I am trying to unite my Vietnamese heritage and experience with the elements of Western culture that have influenced me. In this scenario, the Hydra has been reimagined as an Eastern Sarus crane. In Vietnamese mythology, the bird is said to have been sent from heaven to those who have been chosen by God for eternal life. For centuries, the crane has been a hopeful symbol for a good marriage, a long life, and ‘eternal bliss in heaven’.
Sy Montgomery wrote in 1990 that “Five and a half million acres of forest and half of the country’s arable land were bombed, napalmed, and defoliated during the Vietnam War” and that “nearly 20 million gallons of herbicides -- the infamous Agent Orange and its deadly cousins, Agents Blue and White — were dumped on over 4 million acres of South Vietnam.” Initially, many didn’t consider the toll that the war had on the country’s biodiversity and wildlife. For a decade after the war, Eastern Sarus cranes were not seen in Vietnam. The wetlands in which they inhabited had become decimated, and many feared that they had become extinct. Reforestation began in 1975, after the fall of Saigon. “Without environmental recovery, Vietnam cannot have economic recovery,” said the country’s vice president, Gen. Voi Nguyen Giap, at the time. Thus began a program to build dikes, radiating from the centre of the province. “By 1984, more than 20 kilometers of dikes were built. Around the dikes, the wetlands bloomed. And along with the rest of the nation, the province began a massive tree-planting campaign. Thousands of hectares of fast-growing melaleuca were planted; those areas not planted remained open wetland. By 1985, Dong Thap’s wetlands were thriving (Montgomery 1990).” Not long after, a group of Vietnamese scientists came across the Eastern Sarus crane, its bright red head unmistakable in the distance. The painting looks to not only acknowledge the devastation caused by war and habitat loss, but also to serve as a reminder of the persistence of nature.
Nguyen's illustrative paintings employ a variety of techniques using oil paint and pastel on a canvas surface. Rife with narrative symbols, her dramatic tableaus sing with chaotic tension and humorous undertones. Painted in jewel tones and highlighted by soft-hued pastels, starkly contrasted by bold gestural markings, Nguyen's works are ready to hang framed or unframed.