“Lê Hiền Minh’s worms are similarly captured, dangling from a single tense, taught rope, hanging in a net from which the oversized worms seem to attempting to free themselves. The worms bulge, twisted as if in pain and crushed together, unable to escape from their suspended prison, weighted down by a stone statue. The statue is inspired by ancient sculptures of women that date back to as early as 25,000 BCE. Historically contextualized, the stone woman subsequently becomes an emblem for all the women that have succeeded her. The burden she carries becomes the burden of the female role in society: traditionally to be pure for marriage, to be a good wife, to make a baby, but now also to have a successful career, to make money, to fulfill all the expectations of this role. History and tradition are both inescapable for her and yet something she holds on to. The worms embody this inner turmoil, whilst the rope reveals the tension between our individual desires and external pressures. “
by Maria Sowter
“Hien Minh pays homage to a series of “balls” (or “hạt” in Vietnamese, the title of her work) made from Vietnamese traditional Dó paper, which she crumples into shriveled little spheres. Dyed with pigment powder, these seemingly innocuous pickled-plum-like balls evoke a wrinkled and stale image of masculine pride. Hien Minh’s ball-filled jar parodies the “rượu thuốc” (medicinal liquor) jar commonly found in many Vietnamese males’ living room. Liquor made with animal parts like cobra heads or tiger testicles is traditionally believed to be a powerful organic Viagra for men. Though made by distilling dead beings, a method considered ghastly by some, medicinal liquor is highly regarded as an effective supplement of masculinity. Hien Minh looks at the eerie implication of masculinity, and her work explores what vanity and virility might look like to an observer of the patriarchy in Vietnam. The sheer number of hand-sculpted balls, a staggering 20,694, creates a scene of overwhelming abundance and power. Beyond gender, viewers are invited to meditate on the private process of the artistic maker and the astonishing amount of labor and time behind each work of art.
… the artists pose unnerving questions about who and what has been idolized and venerated throughout history. The altar both insinuate and destabilize the ideologies behind human devotion.”
by Quyen Nguyen
The Room is collaboration between my husband Gregory Jewett and myself. It was installed in a space within our home, which we converted into a gallery.
The room was divided into 2 sections by a large white partition wall. When the viewers enter the exhibition, they enter Gregory's side first. On this side of the room is installed a glowing fiberglass bear which is standing facing the partition. The bear is standing on top of an abstract black and white photograph. Installed within the wall directly behind the bear is a chrome sign with the word Tilt illuminated.
On the far side of the partition sits a large square, black lacquer platform, which is situated the middle of the space. On top of the platform rests a chrome "bed". On top of the bed lie two small sculptural objects, one next to the other. These two objects were crafted using Dó paper and pigment and have an organic shape. To the right of the platform are two white curtains suspended inside of white wooden frames. Behind the curtains are two round lights attached to the wall, one slightly smaller than the other.
During the public opening, we closed off the exhibition area with a rope partition, preventing the viewer from entering the space and viewing the work from a close vantage point.
The Room is a recreation and interpretation of a share memory between Gregory and me. Each side of the room represents our individual point of view from within the shared memory. The room is a complex, mysterious place, a dream like aberration, frozen in time. The Room is an expression of two individual points of view concerning a shared moment in time. It was a moment that was simultaneously isolating and unifying, and a moment we never truly shared and will always share.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper
The installation Dictionaries is comprised of one thousand sculptural forms based on large-scale dictionaries and was created specifically for the exhibition Bố Hạo. It is a commemorative work, marking the 10th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. The installation was first exhibited at the Viet Nam Fine Art museum in Hanoi in November 2012. Later, the work was exhibited at the Ho Chi Minh Fine Art museum for Dó10, my retrospective exhibition.
My Dad loved to read and to collect books on many different topics. Early of his life, he worked at Vien Nghien Cuu Hán-Nôm doing research on Vietnamese extinct language Hán Nôm. Shy to consider himself a linguistics, my Dad continued his passion to study different languages on his own through out his life. We always had large-scale bilingual dictionaries around our house, so whenever I see those dictionaries, I always think of him.
I made the decision from the beginning to keep the inside of the sculpture Dictionaries empty. The emptiness is a representation of both the absence of my forgotten memories and the sadness and anger that absence creates. Despite our years together, the memories of my Dad that now remain have broken, become fragmented and are fading away. They sometimes come back into focus without warning or consideration for my feelings and seem unreliable without my Dad here to confirm them.
Together with the installation Dictionaries, I created a book Còn Lại| Rời Rạc. This object is intended to serve as companion to the installation to further explores memory and its limits. It is a collection of photographs of my Dad’s belongings and writings of my memory of him. During the creation process, I decided to write purely from my own thoughts without the aid of others. I wanted to focus on my own memories because they are increasingly uncertain and one day I won’t be able to distinguish which parts are my own and which are borrowed.
During the process of making Còn Lại| Rời Rạc, I rewrote each recollection many times. I arranged, measured and lined them up carefully, like a map. This map operates like a maze, with old things as well as unknown new things living together. This labyrinth is a place that I want to inhabit. It is also the inspiration for installing the Dictionaries.
The creation of these two artworks stemmed from a desire to communicate with my Dad and to accept his absence. After one and a half years working on Dictionaries, which was hand sculpted, it is my most ambitious installation to date. This marks not only the 10th anniversary of my dad’s passing but also the 10th anniversary of my exclusive use of Vietnamese handmade Dó paper to create my artwork.
2010 - Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper
Body is a self-portrait. It is a life-sized sculpture of my body made from Dó paper.
I left the paper cast of my body outdoors, exposing it to the elements of nature, in order to stimulate organic changes. I left the piece exposed until it disintegrated into the earth.
This piece focuses on metamorphosis as a natural process. The human form is always changing. The human body, throughout ones life and death, changes in dramatic ways. Through decomposition for example, the body degenerates until it is no longer recognizable. As a result, the body is converted into something new, such as: dirt, water, air or forms unimaginable.
These pictures were taken from day 1 to day 60.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Traditional Korean Bean Powder
The installation Birds was created specifically for Incheon International Women Biennale in Incheon, South Korea in 2009. It is comprised of more than seven hundred hand-made objects based on the form of a small bird.
I was born in Hanoi, Northern Vietnam and grew up in the South in Ho Chi Minh City. Because of this, Southerners believe I am a Northerner and Northerners believe that I am a Southerner.
I find it impossible to fit into the traditional role of a Vietnamese woman, yet when I live in America I identify myself strongly as Vietnamese.
Sometimes I feel like I am living between two worlds, just like a migrating bird.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Lacquer, Nylon Rope, Reproduction Cham Statue
The Worms installation, like the Balls installation, had been installed in a number of different ways. However, not until recently had I found a way to install it to reach my satisfaction.
I use a reproduction of an antique Cham statue as an anchor stone which supports a hanging net. The net hangs from a hook embedded in the ceiling and is filled with sculptural objects made from Dó paper. The net is handmade and was created by braiding nylon string together. The overall impression is similar to that of a trap.
The statue is a reproduction of an antique from the Cham Pa empire and is the image of Uma, the goddess of light. The Cham Pa empire existed in central Vietnam from the 7th century to the early 1800’s. Cham Pa culture in modern Vietnam exists mostly through a few remaining temples and a scattering of antiques. The vast majority of Cham Pa relics were destroyed in the Vietnam-American war or were the victims of vandalism or neglect. Antique Cham statues are highly valued objects which demand high prices in the global antique market.
The sculptural objects that I made from Dó paper which are suspended by the weight of the statue, on the other hand, are of very little value in the popular culture of Vietnam and are something most people have absolutely have no interested in acquiring.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Jute Rope
Clouds was created in Hanoi, in 2005 and it was initial inspired by the desert cloud of the American South-West. I created this work slowly over the course of two years. During this time, the work evolved in shape, color and texture dramatically due to the particularly high levels of humidity in Hanoi.
For example, mold would grow, spreading through the work. As a reaction to this I would repeatedly spray a diluted bleach solution into the work in order to control it. I also discovered that baby powder kept the work dry and helped to protect it against the humidity. The mold, bleach and baby powder all became part of the aesthetic of the final piece, adding texture, color and influencing the overall form of the work.
This process of allowing nature to modify my work, while at the same time protecting my work against nature is an important part of my making process. Even after I consider a work is finish, natural elements will continue to affect the work in a number of ways.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Dry Powder Pigment
After I graduated from college in the USA, I moved back to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I realized I couldn’t bring most of my possessions back with me. Even items that had a lot of personal value, I had to leave behind.
I decide to use Dó paper to cast various objects from around my apartment. These objects included my television, sofa, table, chairs, pots, bowls, chopsticks, paintbrushes, tubes of paint, handbags, cosmetics, etc. I then placed these cast objects outside, where they remained for months, so they could become buried in the winter snow.
Vietnamese handmade Dó paper, Glass Jar, Table, Dry Powder Pigment
Balls was created in 2004 while I was living in the state of Ohio in the USA. I have installed this piece in a number of different ways, but most recently I displayed it using a traditional glass jar on top of an antique lacquer table, which I found particularly satisfying.
The glass jar is used to infuse traditional herbs with rice liquor to make herbal spirits. Many older Vietnamese men will have a jar of herbal spirits in their home because it is widely believed to be good for men’s sexual health. The lacquer table is a Northern style altar. An altar like this would exist in a typical home, and is used to display images of ancestors. It is also the place to put an incense holder, which Vietnamese believe house the souls of their ancestors.
The jar and the lacquer table are familiar objects to Vietnamese. The Balls on the other hand are completely foreign objects, despite the fact they are made from Vietnam’s traditional handmade Dó paper.
Vietnamese women struggle to find a balance between traditional and modern notions of success. Traditionally, a woman’s success is defined by the success of her husband and the success of her son. This ideal has been passed down through the generations by our ancestors and is a heavy burden to many Vietnamese women. The modern successful woman, is one who has the freedom to choose her own path and is defined by her own success, not by the success of men she is associated with. This idea of a modern woman is a foreign concept in Vietnamese society, yet it is influencing women who desire more than what the traditional roles offer, and it is steadily becoming part of our culture, despite our traditions.
2011 - Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Wood
Statues was installed on the 4th floor of the Park Armory Avenue in New York City. The Park Armory was built in 1880 and served as the headquarters and administrative building for the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which was an infantry regiment in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
From 2006, the building became a place for performance and exhibition. The work Statues featured a variety of wooden statues, all of which I covered in Dó paper. The Dó paper gave them a uniform color and cover, like that of an army uniform. When the exhibition finished, I left Statues at the Armory for whoever wanted to take them, thus disbanding the group. In that way the work exists in two forms, first as a group, second as scattered individuals.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Dry Powder Pigment
Eggs is one of the first sculptural objects that I made with Dó paper. It is also the first of my works to be created through a repetition of a single.
Vietnamese Handmade Dó Paper, Dry Powder Pigment, Photographs
Selected paintings from the series Road, Vehicle, People, Rain which was created in 2002, when I first started using Dó paper to create artwork.
With this series I started to experiment with Dó paper in a few ways such as: using powder pigment stain the paper much like dyeing cloth, cutting out holes and tearing the paper. Right after this series, I focused my interest on sculptural work.