VIE-STYLE

Artist puts Việt Nam on the world stage with Venice exhibit

Lê Hữu Hiếu talks to Việt Nam News about showing his new project at the Venice Biennale art show.

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Artist Lê Hữu Hiếu. — Photo courtesy of the artist

Lê Hữu Hiếu will be the first Vietnamese artist to display his work at the Venice Biennale cultural exhibition. This year’s exhibition takes place in Venice, Italy from April 20 to November 24.

Hiếu spoke with Việt Nam News reporter Nguyễn Bình about the chance to show his new project, Time Flows on Parallel Lines, at the Venice Biennale.

How did you get the invitation to participate in the Venice Biennale?

My journey to receiving this invitation began with my solo exhibition in October 2021, at the Arsenal Nord, also in Venice. My exhibition, called Soul Energy, was covered by several television networks and art journals, including the Italian national television channel RAI and Artslife.com. This helped attract attention from the Venice Biennale Foundation.

Several representatives from the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Venice city council attended the exhibition. The president of the Italian Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Massimo Faranda, and curators including Paolo De Grandis also attended.

Nevertheless, I went through a long and intensive preparation period, with the help of Laura Gallon, founder of Arte Laguna Studio, before being accepted to show my work at the Venice Biennale.

Without Laura, I would have been lost in this process. She compiled an anthology of my work and presented it to the president of La Biennale di Venezia.

I’ve been so fortunate and grateful to receive favourable and strong support from everyone who has seen Time Flows on Parallel Lines. I’ve been incubating it for five years and it will appear at Venice Biennale in April.

You were the first Vietnamese and the first Asian artist to hold a solo exhibition in Arsenal Nord. How did you manage to earn that opportunity?

For the past 15 years, my main focus has been to achieve an international presence. I have been obsessed with the absence of Vietnamese artwork in the world’s major museums and galleries and in notable studies by important critics.

So my response was to try to exhibit my work at the most prestigious venues and events. In 2017, I had a small exhibition in Italy and had the chance to visit the Venice Bienalle. The Venice Biennale became my goal, my ambition, my devotion of everything I had.

When I returned home, I researched everything related to the foundation, the assessment process, the venue, and requirements for participants. Then I decided to hold a solo exhibition in Arsenal Nord, knowing full well that an exhibition there would attract visits by the foundation officials.

Soul Energy was a success, attracting not only representatives from the Venice Biennale Foundation but also many other art professionals and enthusiasts. Nevertheless, to qualify for an exhibition in Arsenal Nord is not an easy process either. Your work must be vetted by the Italian Ministry of Culture, which issues exhibition licences.

I also had to find financial sponsors. But I am lucky for having so many Vietnamese and international friends who supported me unconditionally on this journey, and for that I am grateful.

Do you think that your participation in the Venice Biennale is a milestone that will put other Vietnamese artwork on the map?

I am so proud of the fact that Việt Nam is sending an artist to officially take part in the “Olympics of the art world.” This is a signal that we are integrated in the international art scene.

To what extent international observers view this Vietnamese presentation is yet to be determined, and it will take time. But in my opinion, if we want people to know us, to recognise us, we first must step out and show ourselves in front of the audience. And I am now fortunate to have such opportunity.

How have you been preparing for the Venice Biennale?

My project has been granted the relevant permits from Vietnamese authorities which are required for a Vietnamese artist to take part in an international exhibition.

I have also finished wrapping up and packaging all the exhibition articles, which fill up five containers. Then, we will need several skillful craftsmen at the venue to help erect and assemble the exhibition.

How will participating in the Venice Biennale be meaningful for your career?

Of course this is an amazing milestone in my career path. I am still young, and I have so much to do and so many dreams to realise. This is a step that will push me forward to participate fully on the world stage of high art.

Besides the personal satisfaction this brings me, this exhibit also shows my dedication and devotion to my homeland. That is so much bigger than me. I want to honour my country and also pave the way for other artists to bring Vietnamese art to the outside world.

Theo Vietnamnews