Beyogmos explorations of identity offer profound insights and beauty

Beyogmos detail Mai Nguyen-Long 2014 KKA selection of images created by Mai Nguyen-Long in a rapid sequence of charcoal drawings for Beyogmos, 2014, set to a soundtrack of songs her Vietnamese father has listened to for as long as she can remember. The animation and the delicacy of its imagery, continually connecting and disconnecting, and accompanied by haunting and melancholic sound, is deeply moving.

The animation is part of Mai’s continuing exploration of identity, which took a dramatic and disturbing twist when Pho Dog (2006), her work in the Casula Powerhouse touring exhibition I Love Pho, attracted a bitterly hostile reception from a small group of people. When displayed at Breadbox Gallery, Perth in 2008, nationwide representatives of the organisation Vietnamese Community in Australia objected forcefully. Mai used the notion of a mongrel dog to illustrate and question the meaning of identity, particularly as it applied to her own experience of an Australian Anglo/Irish mother, a Vietnamese father and her early years spent in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.

A series of exhibitions followed which were partly responses to this community hostility and an effort to heal their hurt and anger and to free herself from her subsequent sense of isolation and paranoia. Gradually, she was moving on. Beyogmos was developed with her close friend and the exhibition’s curator Gina Fairley, who helped Mai select some of her earlier works from 1998 and encouraged her recognition of the spirituality and science of many of the recurring motifs in her contemporary practice.

In a public conversation between Gina and Mai, at Wollongong Art Gallery, March 5, 2014, both acknowledged the living organic nature of Mai’s work – its simultaneous connectivity, flow and disconnection, and the centrality of the bejewelled, now open, mongrel dog to the whole exhibition. Elements of herself, previously segregated, were now finding connection with other elements in a process she describes as synthesis.

Mai continues to investigate ambiguities in a perpetual exploration of identity of how and what we call ourselves in Australia. When an audience member asked has she found any resolution to her own sense of identity, Mai smiled and said, “Yes, I’m an artist.”

Beyogmos continues at Wollongong Art Gallery until May 25.

Image: Mai Nguyen-Long, Beyogmos, 2014, HDV stills, stop animation, 5 min 11 sec; animation editor: Stuart Horstman; music: “Diem Xua” by Trinh Cong Son, sung by Khanh Ly. (image courtesy the artist and NG Art Gallery.)

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Journey with Mai through BEYOGMOS

eimage_Specimen_MaiNguyenLong2013BEYOGMOS is Mai Nguyen Long’s new exhibition of work at Wollongong Art Gallery, opening February 28 and continuing to May 25. Curated by writer Gina Fairley, the exhibition also offers a two day workshop with Mai on creating a personal “spirit map”.

Beyogmos reveals how far Mai has journeyed since her controversial experiences at Casula Powerhouse, described in Chapter 29 of Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney. There she found herself confronting questions of Vietnamese and Australian identity and meaning.

Beyogmos will be opened by Toby Chapman, assistant curator, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Everyone is welcome to attend a conversation between artist and curator, March 5.

Image: Mai Nguyen-Long, Specimen, 2013 – used jars, found and mixed media objects, organic material, liquid, dimensions variable. (image courtesy the artist and NG Art Gallery.)