Asian influence

City Gallery Chastain takes A Rare Look Into the Work of Contemporary Vietnamese-American Artists

The Red Lotus: A Rare Look Into the Work of Contemporary Vietnamese-American Artists at City Gallery Chastain threatens to sink beneath the weight of its title. But once past the heavy hand that beckons you to the show, you’ll find the aesthetic experience a refreshing counterpoint to the Pertenecer / Belonging Latino exhibition on view at City Gallery East. Where the Latino display focuses in many familiar ways on cultural displacement issues, this view of Vietnamese-American art introduces uncommon techniques and materials along with the concerns of a less visible population.

Luckily, Chastain organizer Linh Ho-Carter and collaborator Man Bui, director of the Association for Viet Arts, don’t dwell on a limited “hyphenated identity” paradigm. They selected artists whose work has universal visual interest while at the same time comments on Asian immigrant sensibilities.

Hoang Van Bui’s wall installation, “Unfamiliar Prayers,” shown previously at the Kiang Gallery, is most exquisite. Along one 10-foot wall, a myriad of incense sticks sprout like sea grass from the sand (or rice plants in a field), creating a lyric spiritual space. Approaching the faintly scented situ, the viewer must bend or kneel to sound a bowl-shaped bronze bell meant as a call to meditation.

Dinh Q. Le proposes subtle white-on-white imagery in “The Texture of Memory” series. On his canvasses, he hand embroiders ghostly portraits, ethereal images of Khmer Rouge prisoners who were eventually executed. The artist actually requests the viewer to touch his work. As fingers trace the outlines he has stitched, the faces (and a memory of the victims) more clearly emerge from their backdrop. Le’s earlier photographs, cut into strips and woven together as if they were grass mats, have quilt and basket references. Evoking Impressionism, they are best seen from a distance; the images dissolve into abstraction when viewed close-up.

While Darlene Nguyen-Ely crafts elegant traveling vessels from wood and photo collage, Hoang Vu sculpts delicate exotic plant forms with a dark lacquered wire. Next to her precise sculptures, Tam Van Tran’s paintings explode with organic forms that reveal a formalist’s fascination with nature and the domestic. His abstractions absorb wax, broken eggshells and clusters of cotton pompoms.

There’s also the inventive video work of Tran, T. Kim-Trang, who investigates metaphors attached to physical and hysterical blindness and examines a cultural fetish for the Western eye shape. Metapoems by Truong Tran are equally thoughtful. They speak of longing with an intimate poignancy: “PERHAPS IN ANOTHER TIME OUR STORY WOULD BE DIFFERENT THERE WOULD BE NO LEAVING AND THUS NO RETURNING ...”

The Red Lotus: A Rare Look Into the Work of Contemporary Vietnamese-American Artists continues through Nov. 30 at City Gallery Chastain, 135 W. Wieuca Road. Mon.-Sat. 1-5 p.m. 404-257-1804. ??