The pioneering queer artist who introduced Vietnam to gay culture

In a landmark verdict, Taiwan’s top court has ruled in favor of gay weddings. The ruling of May 26 brought hope to many LGBT activists across the region, particularly those in China Ch, China, and Vietnam.

It is a fact that, as it is across the globe, homophobia causes suffering in Vietnam, where, up until 2000, it was not legal for couples who were gay to reside together. The inclusion of homosexuality on the officially approved listing of mental disorders in 2001 is still widely viewed as a sin.

There have been some advancements. From 2012 on, the United States has been celebrating the gay community (Viet Pride) every year, and in 2016, we saw the debut of the first gay local networking site, Blued. Blued sends around 2 million daily messages to its users, according to the company.

Even in the event that LGBT rights are an ongoing process in Vietnam, Vietnamese contemporary art has been an innovator in this field for a long time.

In the 90s, the scene for contemporary art was growing in Hanoi. New galleries opened, and foreign art collectors showed keen interest in the undiscovered place; even though the censorship of a wise government continued to exist, Vietnamese artists gained some freedoms.

The most significant innovations were that of performance art and gay-themed art by Truong Tan, perhaps the first openly homosexual Vietnamese artwork artist.

“Why are You Standing on my Feet” Why are you Standing on my Foot? ” 1996, Chinese Acrylic and ink on Do paper. Thavibu Art Gallery, Truong Tan

The art reviewer Bui Nhu Huong describes him as the first to pioneer Vietnamese current art, and many artists have expressed admiration for his reluctance to be limited by social and formal criticism.

Socially bound by the law

Truong Tan’s first painting that depicts homosexuality was created in 1992, at the time that his painting The Circus was exhibited in a group exhibit at The Hanoi Fine Arts University, in which Tan was an instructor.

The artwork Circus was shown in the year 1992. Photo captured by Truong Tan and reproduced with permission. Cristina Nualart/Truong Tan, CC BY-NC

The decision to display this work brought out something in the artist. “My goal was set,” He said, stating that he wanted to come out publicly about his sexuality and was determined to build an eminent career as an artist.

It wasn’t easy, so for a while, the artist kept his homoerotic drawings secret. The term “circus” refers to restrictions in the bound ankles of a single persona. Ropes appear as a frequent motif in Truong Tan’s paintings, expressing his views on Vietnam’s strict setting.

More directly, Circus shows a figure who appears strong, threatening, and violent, as well as one who is deformed in the wrong direction and is powerful but indifferent. Interestingly, Tan’s earliest queer work is a brutal representation of domination. However, many of his later works depict flirting, loving, and playful identical-sex couples.

Touched by an Angel 2010. Lacquer painting created by Truong Tan. Image taken by Thavibu Gallery used with permission. Thavibu Gallery

The first solo show he performed in opened at Hanoi in 1994. It featured a plethora of naked males. When he displayed them, Truong Tan tested the water for the acceptance of images that could be considered homosexual.

Confronting the censors

The following year at the same time, in Ho Chi Minh City, the artist showed images that included erect penises. In a later interview with Marianne Brown in a February 2012 piece in the Tribune Business News, Tan believes this move prompted authorities to begin observing his work with a keen eye since he did not follow the guidelines of the government “not to show work that opposes the party and the government, or goes against traditional customs.”

Ceramics by Truong Tan. Photo by Cristina Nualart, 2011. Cristina Nualart

The following year, Tan was the victim of a well-known incident of censorship after 18 of his artworks were taken off an exhibit at the Hanoi’s Red River Gallery. News spread quickly. By the end of 1995, international media had already begun to describe Tan to be ” Vietnam’s only openly gay painter.”

While Tan hasn’t quit painting, in the late 1990s, Tan started to explore the art of performance. Like him, it was free of regulations and canons.

Since the art of performance had no local past, there were no established standards on which to evaluate it. They were, as of now, unusual events, a different option to the formal gallery environment, in which artists could be denied permission to display their work rescinded by The Department of Information and Culture.

In the year 1996, Truong Tan collaborated with the artist Nguyen van Cuong in a show called The Mother and Child (sometimes called The Past and the Future) that was performed in the final event of an exhibit at the Hanoi gallery.

In this 10-minute performance, Truong Tan curled up on the ground, covered with what appeared to be blood, and was then dragged around by the broom of Nguyen Van Cuong that swept the actor around. It’s easy to see the queer and political significance of this particular scene.

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