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Conscious Realities

A series of discursive encounters

Organized by San Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Supported by the Prince Claus Fund Network Partnership

What is Conscious Realities?

Conscious Realities’ is a 3-year project, a dialogue carried out through lectures, workshops and a residency program, inviting intellectuals, artists, writers and other cross-disciplinary culture workers to Ho Chi Minh City. This dialogue focuses on the shared histories of the Global South, engaging the divergent reactions to those histories and the lessons to be learned in thinking laterally across these communities. These necessary dialogues are too often overshadowed by the vertical discourse in which cultural work from formerly colonized peoples is posited in relation to former colonial powers - therefore ‘Conscious Realities’ imagines the primacy of lateral dialogues between South East Asia, South Asia, Latin America and Africa.

In Vietnam, there are few opportunities to engage with art historical or philosophical narratives due to a combination of lack of resources, infrastructure and strict government regulation. Despite this lack of educational access there is a growing creative community seeking knowledge and opportunity. Non-government organizations offer international pathways of knowledge exchange, and though these opportunities are valued, they largely echo colonial relations or diplomatic concerns, failing to provide an encounter with practitioners that hail from social and cultural histories analogous to the context of Vietnam. ‘Conscious Realities’ seeks to address this lack.

In the Global South, a diverse region predominantly imagined and constructed by colonial empire, there are countless hidden histories not taught that illustrate a world of vastly different social relations and influences - the complicated journey of Indonesian batik techniques, through Dutch capital and industrialization to the markets of West Africa; or the way that Sanskrit functioned as a lingua franca across great parts of Asia, South East Asia and South Asia, creating a common root for widely diverse cultures. Such comparative histories illuminate and complicate the presumed borders of nation, ideas of cultural identity, the intention of history, ritual and custom, or reasons behind ethnic migration and economic trade. While acknowledging the paradox of colonial geographies, in which the very borders were tools of subjugation, ‘Conscious Realities’ seeks to engage creative interdisciplinary practitioners in a South-to-South relation, in an attempt to create alternate networks of knowledge exchange.

Traditional notions of center and periphery are outdated, particularly considering China and India are now global economic powerhouses; while former colonies like Angola are now providing aid and opportunities to their previous colonial powers. Thus, ‘Conscious Realities’ re-imagines geography as a visual/intellectual/cultural construct, seeking to define these new spaces through analysis of cultural production utilized through tropes of mythology, social science and the movement of material resources and human ingenuity/labor.

‘Conscious Realities’ seeks to stimulate creative activity in Vietnam, engaging different ideas of contemporary artistic process.


Through exchange in dialogue, ‘Encounter’ seeks the shared space of experience and expertise via lecture and informal discussion. Creative thinkers, from interdisciplinary backgrounds such as art, theory, architecture, literature, music or new media will be invited to visit Ho Chi Minh City for a 2-week period per year. During this time, each thinker provides public lecture/s, sharing personal expertise and experience, in addition to two informal meetings with select participants. Participants (cross-disciplinary in study) are selected via an Open Call process across Vietnam and are expected to attend all aspects of ‘Encounter’ each year. A local board of advisors adjudicates this Open Call and a new intake of participants will be sought each year. These activities will take place predominantly at San Art, or an external venue should audience numbers demand.

The ‘Encounter’ lecture series is presented in partnership with ‘Tri Viet Centre for Social and Educational Research’, Ho Chi Minh City.


The space of production in a lived and shared environment can be one of the most dynamic and intimate forms of artistic influence, enabling a challenge of conceptual and technical ideas. For ‘Prod/Ponder’, five participants (visual artists/curators) will be invited to undertake a one-month residency in Ho Chi Minh City each year, as part of ‘San Art Laboratory’ – Vietnam’s first homegrown studio/residency program. Each guest will be expected to undertake a project in Ho Chi Minh City, with final showcase of work/ideas/challenges at San Art

Program Thematics and Participants

‘Conscious Realities’ is composed of three subject areas:

1. The role and transformation of mythology, as an institutionalized form of spiritual guidance (such as Islam or Buddhism); as popularized contemporary phenomena (such as Bollywood); as a system of language constructed to signify meaning and value, exploring how creative visual vehicles utilize and reference historical narrative to speak about the complexities of contemporary life.

2. The artistic employment of social science methodologies in contemporary visual culture, exploring the diverse and often traumatic impact of colonial histories, racial formations and the consequence of ideology and armed conflict on the creation of collective memory and cultural archive.

3. The origin and history of use of material resource, considering the migration of raw materials and human ingenuity/labor and how they have become key components employed and questioned within artistic practice. The creative innovation of natural and man-made materials as local symbol and the origin and subsequent conflict in international trade of goods (eg. coltan, a rare mineral, found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil, among others) will also be artistically explored.

Goals & Objectives

  • To create a critical platform of contemporary interdisciplinary artistic exchange in Vietnam between local, regional and international creative thinkers from South East Asia, South Asia, Latin America and Africa, encouraging awareness in Vietnam that their cultural and social histories carry great similarity with these regions.

  • To acknowledge that structures of value in cultural capital must be innovated, that creative producers rejuvenating historical pathways of knowledge and exchange will create new economic opportunities for the future

  • To use knowledge, dialogue and creative production, specifically relating to historical narratives as a crucial and constitutive part of the progress and innovation within a social community

  • To re-establish the primacy of creative thinking in the understanding of history, especially in contexts where archives must be read across purposes. For example in resurrecting colonial documentation to understand the lives of those for whom such documents were primarily tools of subjugation, or in contemporary politically repressive contexts, in which history itself can function as a closely guarded state secret.

  • To nurture the growth of an interdisciplinary creative community in Vietnam - artistic producers, facilitators and audiences - towards a more informed awareness of how individual action and innovation of concept, material and interpretation empowers meaningful change in social life

  • To create a new set of cultural pathways in exchange and dialogue in South East Asia, between this region and South Asia, Africa and Latin America, so as to encourage greater educational and economical ties for the betterment of cultural organization and individual growth

  • ‘Conscious Realities’ is a 3-year undertaking (2013-2016) made possible by a network partnership between San Art and the Prince Claus Fund

Curatorial Advisors

N’Gone Fall
Curator and writer
Dakar, Senegal

Gridthiya Gaeweewong
Curator and Artistic Director
Jim Thompson House
Bangkok, Thailand

Christopher Myers
Artist and Writer
New York, USA

Hammad Naser
Curator and Critic
Head of Research and Programs
Asia Art Archive,
Hong Kong, P.R. China

Jose Roca
Curator and Co-Founder
Bogota, Colombia

Sharmini Periera
Writer and Founder
Raking Leaves
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Kate Fowle
Director at Large
Independent Curators International
New York, USA

Principal sponsor