Return Engagements: Contemporary Art's Traumas of Modernity and History in Sài Gòn and Phnom Penh
In Return Engagements artist and critic Việt Lê examines contemporary art in Cambodia and Việt Nam to rethink the entwinement of militarization, trauma, diaspora, and modernity in Southeast Asian art. Highlighting artists tied to Phnom Penh and Sài Gòn and drawing on a range of visual art as well as documentary and experimental films, Lê points out that artists of Southeast Asian descent are often expected to address the twin traumas of armed conflict and modernization, and shows how desirable art on these themes is on international art markets. As the global art market fetishizes trauma and violence, artists strategically align their work with those tropes in ways that Lê suggests allow them to reinvent such aesthetics and discursive spaces. By returning to and refashioning these themes, artists such as Tiffany Chung, Rithy Panh, and Sopheap Pich challenge categorizations of “diasporic” and “local” by situating themselves as insiders and outsiders relative to Cambodia and Việt Nam. By doing so, they disrupt dominant understandings of place, time, and belonging in contemporary art.
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