by Ren Ta
Dinh Q Le. is a contemporary, fine arts photographer who is known for his works of addressing war, especially the Vietnam War, and Cambodia's influence on Vietnam. Born in 1968 in the town of Ha Tien, Vietnam, a small town that was on the near the border of Cambodia, Le lived there in turmoil and anguish for the first ten years of his life. In 1979, he escaped to Los Angeles, California from the ruthless invasion by Khmer Rouge. From there on out, he started his studies at the University of California, where he studied photography, and later graduated in 1992 with a MFA from the School of Arts, New York. Now, for half a year at a time, he lives in his four story studio in Ho Chi Minh City, where he also started an artist-run exhibition space that advocates for young Vietnamese artists. For the other half of the year, he spends in Los Angeles where the rest of his family resides.
Divided by the upbringings of his Western life and his Vietnamese roots, Dinh Q. Le creates art that visually represents his hybrid life. In 1989, Le took a class on the Vietnam War that focused on the hardships of Americans and from there it ignited his interests in the contrasts of Vietnam and Western relations with conflict. Using these these themes of nostalgia, remembrance, and identity, his later works of photo weaving evokes all the emotions that makes him the internationally acclaimed artists that he is today.
The intricate intertwining of photos was influenced by Dinh Q Le's aunt that taught him how to weave as a child. Le's aunt would teach him how to weave traditional Vietnamese grass mats, in which those techniques that he learned are still used today in his most famous works. It was important that Le learned these techniques at that time due to the state of conflict and anguish he was constantly in. Le lived in an area that was one of the most dangerous cities in Vietnam due to the Cambodian invaders. This trauma could easily be seen as a spark to his passion and interest in war and its relation to Vietnam. He started this photo-weaving in a series he did in 1989, where he wove himself a self portrait of large scale photos of himself and images of Italian Renaissance paintings into one.
One of the most influential works he has ever produced is a series called Cambodia: Splendor and Darkness in 1997. It was of his signature photo weaving that included images of complex carvings found in temples from the county of Tuol Sleng, Cambodia and the devastatingly painful portraits of the victim taken by the Khmer Rouge. This series was prompted by his visitation to Angkor Wat and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum when he traveled to Cambodia after he returned to Vietnam for the first time since his flee. He was amazed and at the same time appalled by the distinguishable contrast between the beautiful temples of the Khmer Empire and the cruel history that Cambodia represented centuries later.
Now-a-days, DInh Q. Le collects historic artifacts as much as he can and incorporates it into his recent artworks. This series is called Crossing the Farther Shore, where he displays photographs from the the 1940s-1980s. The juxtaposition of the photographs are meant to be given off as a display of a collection of data and how the Southern Vietnamese people were living like. The images are only of few records that have slipped out of the North Vietnamese' communist governments grasp as a way to erase the history of the South during the pre-1975 era.
"Dinh Q. Le (Vietnamese- American, b. 1968)." Gund Gallery, http://www.thegundgallery.org/2015/02/dinh-q-le/.
Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia. “How Vietnamese Artist Dinh Q Lê Manages to Create Beauty with Tragedy.” Prestige Online - Society's Luxury Authority, Hubert Burda Media, 22 May 2018, prestigeonline.com/sg/art-culture/-/beauty-tragedy-artist-dinh-q-le-captures-cambodias-dark-past/.