Vietnam: The Art of War documents the decades of conflict that took place in Vietnam during the 20th century through the experiences of the Vietnamese artists who lived through it.
An extraordinary range of film, photo-journalism and writing recorded one side of what became known in the West as the “Vietnam War”. Yet the Vietnamese called it the “American War”, since it was only one in a series of 20th century wars fought by the Vietnamese. Their conflicts started with resistance to Japanese occupying forces during World War II, followed by an anti-colonial war against the French and then, finally, after invading Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge, a brief but bloody war with China on the northern border in 1979.
For the Vietnamese, there were no helicopters to fly their reporters and photographers back to the relative comfort and safety of their cities. There were no Kodak labs on the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to develop their film. And no telexes to transmit their stories to editors’ desks. Anything they painted, sketched, wrote or photographed had to be carried out by hand, through hundreds of kilometres of dangerous jungle, over mountains and across rivers, always under the threat of aerial bombardment and disease, and while constantly battling the elements.
Not surprisingly, much of the art and photography that was created by the Vietnamese during these decades never survived. It was lost, destroyed, weather-damaged, insect-eaten, water-logged and even abandoned during acts of survival. Many of the soldier-artists and photographers perished. What made it out and survived until today is both rare and fragile, yet provides an extraordinary insight into “the other side” of these conflicts.
Vietnam: The Art of War builds on more than 20 years of research in Vietnam and overseas to add a fresh perspective to these world-changing events that left such an imprint on so many lives and so many countries in the 20th century – our century.
In addition to numerous interviews with the artists and their families, the researchers and writers behind Vietnam: The Art of War have been given comprehensive access to Witness Collection and its archives, one of the world’s largest private collections of Vietnamese art, based in Southeast Asia. National Gallery Singapore has also kindly given permission to display art works from its permanent collection. This project has been supported by Asiarta Foundation, a non-profit art foundation, to assemble these illuminating untold stories.
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