Talk by AAA Researcher Chương-Đài Võ for Teaching Labs. How does art help us understand colonialist and nationalist ideas about race, class, and gender? What is the difference between work in a gallery and in a metal workshop? As part of their mission civilisatrice in Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), French colonial administrators created and cemented distinctions between “craft” and “fine art.” These early twentieth-century definitions set up a hierarchy of aesthetic values and practices underpinned by Orientalist assumptions that denigrated “the local” and celebrated “the Western.” Artists and intellectuals vigorously debated the purpose of their work as they sought to define their relationship to colonial rule, and later to the post-1954 nations of South Vietnam and North Vietnam. We will look at how art developed in the southern and northern regions of the country, and how artists have appropriated and reimagined local and foreign materials, styles, and practices.

Vietnam: The Making of the Modern and the Contemporary