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Long Lost Images from the Vietnam War Made into Powerful Installation

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For Crossing the Farther Shore, photographer Dinh G. Lê weaves together found photographs from the Vietnam War, erecting ghostly rectangular structures pieced together by a collective memory of South Vietnam. Leaving their town of Hà Tiên during the Cambodian-Vietnamese War in 1977, Lê and his family emigrated to Thailand and ultimately to the United States. Although oral and visual histories of South Vietnam are scarce, all but erased by the communist government of North Vietnam, Lê has salvaged a collection of thousands of family photographs left behind by those killed or displaced by war, hoping to preserve them as historical documents.

In place of long lost photographs of his own family holidays and occasions, Lê treasures photographs of others. As a child, he often heard his mother awaken from dreams in which she was back home; by modeling his installations off of the mosquito nets that cover the sleeping people of Vietnam, he constructs a nest of sorts, a safe resting space for childhood memories and adult longings.

The work ultimately honors the small moments swallowed up by a history normally told by giants; amidst the well-worn photographs are prints turned backwards to reveal hand-written passages from Vietnamese literature and interviews gathered for the Vietnamese-American Oral History Project. By stringing together the words and images in uneven layers, the artist leaves gaps, allowing our eyes to penetrate and wander through the structures. Unbound to a linear narrative, our gaze is free to scan these forgotten moments, to make meaning from both their connections and their contradictions.

Crossing The Farther Shore is on view at the Rice Gallery until August 28, 2014.

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