Tammy Nguyen, “Shoot” (2015), watercolor, acrylic, and oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

In 2010, artist Tammy Nguyen stopped into a used bookstore in Ho Chi Minh City. Amid the heat and heaps of old texts and materials, she stumbled upon a US military document from 1969 that proposed the modernization and reconstruction of the city of Danang. The document referred to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) as a “primate city,” which Nguyen has explained means “a city isolated by rural and inadequate areas that is large and growing so quickly that it absorbs the country’s resources projecting an unstable national future.”

A few years later, Nguyen returned to Danang, where she spent time observing a species of monkeys that lives on Son Tra Mountain, which housed a US military base during the Vietnam War. The red-shanked douc langurs survived the US invasion, only to now become endangered thanks to the construction of a resort. These monkeys, the mountain, and the concept of a primate city are the driving forces of Nguyen’s current solo show at Ground Floor Gallery, curated by Aljira Executive Director Dexter Wimberly. In paintings, prints, and artist’s books — including one shaped like a red-shanked douc langur — Nguyen weaves the fictional tale of a girl named Dana Ng who sucks out the monkeys’ eyeballs with a straw. The violence of the imagery is offset by its sensitivity, as Nguyen washes her canvases in rich colors and loose, dreamlike flora. Her work is fantastical but grounded in facts — and a reminder that the stories places contain are infinitely more complicated than we humans make them out to be.

Tammy Nguyen, “What happens after blindness?” (2017), woodblock and mixed media on paper, 18.5 x 14.5 in

When: Artist talk on Saturday, March 25, 3pm; public hours close March 26, but show remains open by appointment through March 3o
Where: Ground Floor Gallery (343 5th Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn)

More info here.

Correction: This piece originally misstated that the document found by Nguyen referred to Danang, not Saigon, as a “primate city.” We regret the error, and it has been fixed.

The Latest

Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...