28 August 2020

Turning the spotlight on cultural identity through art

cultural identity through art
Unicorn Land, 2019

Truc Truong

Bachelor of Contemporary Art

A rising star in the Australian art world, and a recent graduate of UniSA’s Bachelor of Contemporary Art, Truc Truong doesn’t shy away from hard questions in her work. Truc is a Vietnamese-Australian artist working primarily in installation and sculpture. Broadly, her art explores her family’s experience of multicultural Australia through a lens of racism, hybridity and displacement.

Truc’s journey towards developing her arts practice has been punctuated by the pressures and challenges that accompany any major opportunity. She happened upon art school almost by accident – in the midst of training to be a teacher, an elective ceramics class opened her eyes to the possibilities of creative practice and set her on a new course.

“I started off wanting to be a ceramicist, but after getting halfway through the degree, I found myself drawn to a range of mediums,” says Truc of her gravitation towards sculpture and installation.

“The best thing about studying is the opportunity to just experiment and fail without having the pressure of what sells and what will be picked up for an exhibition.”

For Truc, the challenge of breaking into an industry that can be exclusive and tight knit at the best of times, has been compounded by the transcultural nature of her work. In Unicorn Land, Truc battles with the shared family trauma of migration and its lasting effects on her own cultural identity.

Comprising a traditional lion’s head imported from Vietnam atop a frame draped in her own shredded, bleached clothing, the work stands in front of three large black banners emblazoned with the words ‘thanks for the bread but we good’.

Unicorn Land
 Unicorn Land (installation view), Hatched: National Graduate Show, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

The words, written with bleach, reference the French colonisation of North Vietnam and resultant social and cultural damage, and are written in English, Chu Nom (Vietnamese pre-colonial script), and Chu Quoc Ngu (contemporary Vietnamese script).

Unicorn Land was first exhibited as part of In Situ, the 2019 Bachelor of Contemporary Art Graduate Exhibition at UniSA. From there, it was selected for exhibition as part of the annual Helpmann Academy graduate show which features outstanding emerging artists from tertiary education programs across South Australia.

Prior to selection for the Helpmann show, Truc had already gained exhibition experience after being selected for a group show in Melbourne, where she exhibited alongside industry heavyweights like Hoda Afshar and James Nguyen.

Truc describes the experience of being selected for these shows as utterly transformative.

“I have been able to build an incredible network of supportive, talents and generous artists who have been able to guide me through an industry where I often feel like I don’t belong,” she says.

“I was very unsure about how people would view my practice, but I have been very surprised and honoured to be given incredible opportunities to collaborate as well as exhibit.”

Most recently, Truc’s work has been selected for inclusion in the prestigious national graduate exhibition Hatched at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in Northbridge. An annual graduate show that features the work of outstanding visual arts graduates from across the nation, this year’s iteration includes 24 artists, two of whom hail from Adelaide. The exhibition opened in early July after a delay due to closures and runs through until October 18.

Art exhibitions
Truc Truong (top, right) and a couple of her new works

“Being a part of these major exhibitions has given me a glimpse of all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. I have become much more aware of how things work and what it means for me as an emerging artist seeking opportunities and networks,” says Truc.

Those networks are indispensable for an emerging practitioner like Truc, who has already begun to form connections interstate and internationally.

“Most of my mentors are from Melbourne… I admire Phyuong Ngo and Nikki Lam, who created a stage for artists with transcultural practices like myself,” she says.

“There were some pretty unconstructive things said about my work amongst the art world in Adelaide. I heard a group say that I played the race card, which I found really hurtful.”

Despite these pressures, Truc also believes that her work can have a positive influence on the environments and institutions that often serve to reinforce racism and whiteness.

“Art has given me the opportunity to explore and unlearn things… I know there is an argument about whether representation is enough, but when I was at school and came across someone that looked like me… it made me comfortable and willing to learn,” she says.

Explore Truc Truong’s work

Hatched will run at PICA until October 18. The Hatched catalogue is available for viewing here.

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