Khánh H. Lê: We’re Still Here, Waiting???
January 8 – February 7, 2021
Even though I identify myself as a Vietnamese-born American, I still do not know the depth of what this descriptive label means. There is a discord within my own origin due to the fact that I was born in the wake of the Vietnam conflict. By the time I came into the world, Vietnam had already claimed its own independence. Being born too late effectively removed me from that earlier point in history and all that it signifies to people inside and outside of Vietnam. Growing up in the United States, I learned to adapt my identity living between two cultures. Identity is the central theme of my works, and I examine it through the bits and pieces of my personal memory and the collective history from the two cultures.
Contradictions and fragmentations are key issues in examining the notion of identity within the structure of my works. I collect images from family photo albums, digital photographs, and fashion and home décor magazines. Through the process of collage, I layer together the fragmented photo images to create a new historical narrative that is reflective of the tension within my own identity.
These past few years, news of Syrian refugees in Europe and separation at our borders have made me reflect on my personal experience as my family waited for permission to come to the United States in the late 80s. I started this works by re-photographing my old family photograph that was taken just before we left Vietnam or during our stay in refugee camps in Thailand or Hong Kong.
My family photographs served as fragmented memories that allowed me to create new narratives as I collage it using scrapbooking and mixed-media materials. Using Photoshop, I began manipulating images of the figures and space around them. I then use one or two shapes and keep rotating it to create drawn patterns on the photograph. Next, I painted the pattern to create additional new patterns on the photograph. Once another new pattern emerges, I then take the acrylic jewels and place on the pattern to create a new pattern that pushes and pull between the photograph, pattern, and paint. Also, there are some jewels that I create from cutting up metallic sequins and adhere with the acrylic jewels. I hope to create a space so that my family and I can exist, and it will also allow us to grow organically through the embellishment and patterns that are on and around our bodies.
About the Artist:
Khánh H. Lê (b. 1981 Long Dinh, Vietnam; lives and works in Washington, D.C.) continuously probes his personal and familial histories in an attempt to carve out a cultural identity for himself. Lê creates dazzling compositions based on deteriorating photographs and collective memories of his and his relation’s experiences as refugees living in Vietnamese (internment) camps in the 1980’s. Through the collaging of acrylic paint, glitter, printmaking techniques, and sparkling plastic craft jewels Lê merges narratives, both horrific realities and idyllic fantasies, that are filled with tension as he explores notions of home, country, and safety. Lê graduated with an MFA from Syracuse University in 2008. His work has been exhibited at the Hunterdon Art Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Vox Populi, Honfleur Gallery, DC Arts Center, Hillyer Art Space, Transformer, CulturalDC, Pyramid Atlantic and Arlington Arts Center. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities awarded Le the Artist Fellowship for the Visual Arts in 2011, 2015 through 2020. He was awarded 2nd place for the Bethesda Painting Prize in 2018 and was a 2019 semifinalist for the Sondheim Prize.