A Tapestry of Memories: The Art of Dinh Q. Lê is the first major survey of the work of the Vietnamese-American artist. Born in Vietnam in 1968, Lê escaped his hometown Ha Tien in 1977 following its invasion by the Khmer Rouge. In 1979, at age eleven, Lê emigrated with his family from Thailand to Los Angeles. There, he went on to study at the University of California, Santa Barbara and in 1989 began to create the photographic tapestries for which he is now known. In 1996 Lê returned to Ho Chi Minh City, where he currently lives and works.
Lê’s tapestries and video installations reveal a two-decade-long introspective journey in which the artist has brought his vision to bear on the dislocation and cultural displacement he experienced, first in fleeing his homeland, then with his immersion in American culture, and ultimately upon the return to his estranged and yet familiar country. Through his art, Lê has sought to negotiate the differing perspectives he holds—Vietnamese, American-Vietnamese, and American—on Vietnam, the American-Vietnam War, and his place in the two societies in which he finds both belonging and alienation.
By literally and metaphorically weaving together images that speak for his conflicted cultural identity, Dinh Q. Lê’s work allows us to experience the uncertain balance of personal memories within a collective memory forged largely by cinematic constructions. The works in this exhibition embody Lê’s vivid sense of the struggle to find one’s own place within the framework of superimposed, alien, and collective identity.
The artist’s sense of cultural identity is conveyed through his adoption of the language of tradition—the age-old Vietnamese mat-weaving technique passed on to him in childhood by his aunt. Through warp and weft, Lê blends a sense of belonging gained from generation upon generation of tradition with the intensity of the contemporary imagery he weaves. In this light, the clearly handmade aspect of his work becomes vital to its conceptual content.
As Lê points out, these works present no single image or viewpoint. The fictional and the factual are forced to interface, and as we interpret the disruption and interference, they shift in importance and meaning, opening us to deeper insights about our countries, our time, and ourselves.
A Tapestry of Memories: The Art of Dinh Q. Lê is organized by Bellevue Arts Museum and made possible in part by the generosity of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
Curated by Stefano Catalani.