Saturday, June 16, 2012

Considering Lao artist Vong Phaophanit

Savannakhet has produced some of the leading artists of 20th and 21st century Laos, such as NEA Heritage Fellow Bounxou Chanthraphone and Bush Artist Fellow Mali Kouanchao. Vong Phaophanit is another prominent artist who was born in Savannakhet in 1961. Trained in Paris, he currently lives in the UK with his wife and frequent collaborator Claire Oboussier. They maintain their website at:

You can find his work at several acclaimed museums internationally, including the Tate Britain, London; The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Belfast; The British Council Collection, London; and The Arts Council Collection, London. He was on the 1993 short-list for the Turner Prize and held a 1994 DAAD fellowship in Berlin. In 2002 was the award winner of the Art and Work Award for site-specific work with Gensler Architects.

As we continue to build our understanding of the direction of Lao American artists, we should consider the themes he has worked with over the years. Like many Lao artists, memory has been an important theme. Bamboo, rubber, and rice were frequent materials of choice that he has employed as one of several ways to incorporate his heritage into his art. There are many Lao artists whose bodies of work we can examine where they have not always been overt in addressing their heritage. Like many of us, he has shown interest in broader aesthetic and philosophical issues.

There aren't many who do sculpture and installations. A frequent technique of his has been to use familiar materials to expose multiple layers of contradictory meaning. I'd be interested to see how much he has been influenced by the work of figures like Jean Luc-Godard. Often,  he has not translated the Lao words incorporated into his works for his audience. This is considered an effort to communicate the challenge of living between cultures.

It's interesting because so many of us, from writers to artists in the Lao expatriate community have been doing such things in our own forms. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's an innate imperative, but I've often found Lao artists do this with a particular frequency.

But what are ways you see Lao artists and writers addressing the themes of memory and the challenge of living between cultures?

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