Forgotten: Recovering Vietnamese-Japanese Widows

Vietnamese widow Nguyen Thi Thu[1] has been abandoned, left to wait until someone (history? the public? family?) comes back to acknowledge her existence at their convenience in Phan Quang’s Re/Cover no. 5 (See Fig. 1). Draped like forgotten furniture in an abandoned home, she sits solemnly, quietly supporting a photograph of her late husband, who was Japanese. The sheet of fabric that covers her, however, is a veil used in Japan to symbolize the unity of marriage—in this case, a condemned one between Japanese and Vietnamese cultures. Post-War animosity led to the denial of any amicable relations between the two cultures, and, consequently, to the censure of marriages like Nguyen Thi Thu’s.

 

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Fig. 1. Phan Quang, “Re/Cover no. 5” (2013), photograph, courtesy Phan Quang, via Hyperallergic.

 

Unfortunately, Nguyen Thi Thu is not an exceptional case: Post-War animosity led to the denial of any amicable relations between the two cultures, and, consequently, to the censure of marriages like hers. Political and racial tensions refused to recognize such unions—in history books and in the general public.[2]

The framed photograph of her late husband may suggest the attempt to preserve his memory, but both he and his wife, have been ignored. A shrine devoted her husband stands on a shelf above her head on the otherwise scarce wall. Re/Cover no. 5 further alludes to the forgotten with the pale yellow square left by the frame that was once on that wall behind the subjects—perhaps from the image that Nguyen Thi Thu’s poses with.

 

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Fig. 2. Phan Quang, “Re/Cover no. 8” (2013), photograph, courtesy Phan Quang, via Hyperallergic

 

In another installment in Quang’s series, Re/Cover no. 8 (2013), a gold-framed image of a late Japanese soldier rests in the hands of his proud widow (See Fig. 2). In this photo, however, the veil does not only cover the couple; it shrouds the entire room. Not only has the couple been abandoned, but also their belongings, their lives, have been unappreciated.

Hyperallergic’s Ben Valentine provides a synopsis of Phan Quang’s series Re/Cover, on display at Blanc Art Gallery in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam until July 20, 2016:

“These are the histories that don’t neatly fit in and therefore are purposefully forgotten. Like these women, Phan’s photos are powerful testaments to the importance of these micro-histories and counter-narratives to ‘official’ accounts of our past.”[3]

 

Visit Hyperallergic and check out the article here for more information, more details, and more photos of Phan Quang’s work.


 

[1] “We see Nguyen Thi Thu shrouded in the veil, with her hand resting gently atop a photograph of her late Japanese husband, as if he were present next to her. We see a blank spot where the photograph was taken down from the wall, next to a Vietnamese-style altar on which another photograph of her husband, various votive offerings, and other important objects rest.“ via the Hyperallergic article, “Photographing the Forgotten Vietnamese Widows of Japanese WWII Soldiers”.

[2] ibid. Ben Valentine provides more details on the history between Japan and Vietnam.

[3] ibid.

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