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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Catching up with the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program Alumni: Nguyễn Thế Sơn

This week WAM’s “Around the World” series on social media travels to Southeast Asia and will feature the Museum’s Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program (SEA-AiR). Launched in 2018, SEA-AiR invites two emerging artists from Southeast Asia for a six-week residency at WAM. 

The program’s objectives are threefold: to support emerging artists from Southeast Asia, where the infrastructure and institutional support for contemporary artists are scarce, or, in some extreme cases, nonexistent; to create meaningful connections between the community of artists, Southeast Asians, and the general public in Worcester with the art and culture of Southeast Asia; and to focus on the internationally diverse connections within Worcester and the vital global role an encyclopedic museum, such as WAM, plays in its community. Artists can create, do research, give talks, participate in workshops and events, hold Open Studios, and visit nearby institutions.

Since we couldn’t hold our traditional residency this year due to COVID-19, we thought this is a great opportunity to highlight the program and showcase our talented alumni artists: Nguyễn Thế Sơn (2018), Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan (2018), Richard Streitmatter-Tran (2019). and Jennifer Teo (2019). 

Rachel Parikh, our Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art, caught up with each artist, and their interviews will appear in WAM Updates throughout this week, beginning today, with Nguyễn Thế Sơn. You also can follow this feature on WAM’s Facebook and Instagram accounts! 

Nguyễn Thế Sơn, 2018 SEA-AiR alumnus 

Thế Sơn was one of our first participants of the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program. He is a curator and professor of fine arts based in Hanoi, Vietnam. Fascinated by life on the streets, especially street vendors and other low-wage earners who are so easily overlooked, Thế Sơn uses his photography to create multi-scale, layered, and sculptural dioramas that reflect his street experiences.

Thế Sơn’s The Carriers in front of Worcester’s City Hall.
The work features life-size photographic dioramas of a
 female street vendor selling vegetables from Hanoi and  a
 male shipper driving his motorcycle from Ho Chi Minh City.

Rachel Parikh (RP): Why did you want to participate in WAM’s Southeast Asia                            Artists-in-Residency Program? 

Thế Sơn (TS): I thought it would be a great experience for me to connect with the Vietnamese            community in Worcester and to experiment with my public art project in a totally new social environment. 

RP: What was your favorite memory of the program?

TS: I have so many wonderful memories of when I was in Worcester! But I think the highlight was the StART on the Street Festival. It was so much fun to interact with a lot of local people. I also loved the amazing POW!WOW! mural project in Worcester.

RP: Do you have a favorite object in the WAM Collection?

TS: I do! It is Nam June Paik’s Robert Goddard, 1995. I have always loved Nam June-Paik's work and was happy to see one at the Museum I find his work complex and inspiring, and like the interactive elements of his work, which I try to achieve in my own art.

Nam June Paik (American, born in Korea, 1932-2006), Robert Goddard, 1995, 
1995, aluminum structure, wooden cabinet, electronic components,
neon glass tubing, two video sequences. Museum purchase with funds
from Mary H. and Donald R. Melville, Linda and John Nelson,
and the Theodore T. and Mary G. Ellis Fund, 1997.108 

RP: Did the program impact your artistic practice? How? 

TS: It did. It made me think about how my art interacts with the community—and different    communities, especially when I am working on a public art project. 

RP: What have you been working on since your residency in 2018?

TS: Since my residency in 2018, I have become more focused on public art projects, both curating and creating. I continue to think more and more about making art for the larger community in this way, such as an outdoor museum for everyone. I have been working on a lot of these around Vietnam, most recently, at Phuc Tan, and also in the Netherlands. I also have done solo exhibitions in Vietnam, Seoul, and Hong Kong. 

Thế Sơn’s Street Vendors, part of the 2020 Phuc Tan Public Art Project.
The work depicts silhouettes of female works at the river wharf, executed in
scrap iron. The highly reflective surface mirrors views of the river.

To see more of The Son’s recent work and projects, please check out the Journey to the Windmill Land and the Contemporary art project in the basement of  National Assembly of Vietnam.

The Southeast Asia Artist-in-Residency Program launched in 2018 in partnership with the Indochina Arts Partnership and the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts under the leadership of Anh Vu Sawyer, is made possible through the IAP Fund at WAM. Additional support is provided by the Crawford Foundation and Robert and Minh Mailloux. WAM is very grateful to the Indochina Arts Partnership, and its founder David Thomas, for their generous donation. This gift will help to ensure the continuation of this residency program and IAP’s mission to promote cultural exchange between Southeast Asia and the U.S. through the arts.

—September 8, 2020

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