Sàn Art presents ‘A Transformative Disguise’, a solo traveling exhibition by Ho Chi Minh City-based artist, Le Hoang Bich Phuong, co-produced by Sàn Art and the Japan Foundation.
Crows are superstitiously considered unlucky in Vietnam so when Le Hoang Bich Phuong found herself in Sapporo, Japan lost in her attempt to find an art supply store, she was hesitant to approach the only shop on the street that was surrounded by a flock of these black, loud birds. A Japanese man stepped forward to help her find her destination by a hand drawn game of Pictionary. From that day forward, crows have ceased to be unlucky for Bich Phuong. Such personal encounters are frequently referenced in the work of this emerging artist whose recall of human character is cunningly, at times comically analogous to the myths of the animal world.
In this exhibition a series of portraits in silk, representing herself, including various strangers and friends both real and imagined, wear the facial mask of particular animals — donkeys with buckteeth possess skeletal hands; an old bear towers like an oversized hooded jacket over a young child’s face; a pig sits sickly with a dripping and swelling red nose; or a Japanese operatic mask of a fox stands pulling at her lips as if she cannot speak. Deftly painted in subtle watercolor tones, what these images refer are the indulgent and insecure habits of the human condition.
Fascinated with the way established and vernacular mythological narrative can offer moral or ethical lessons; Le Hoang Bich Phuong playfully alludes to a myriad of cultural tradition from Japanese and Vietnamese fairytale to insightful re-readings of Aesop and children’s nursery rhymes. In her world, the donning of invisible masks is a frequent practice in contemporary life where either by means of survival or psychological insecurity, these masks appears to offer some kind of protection. Accompanying these paintings is a series of miniature ceramic sculptures whose human bodies have bonded with their masks; some have limbs that are missing, while another has a fish tank for a brain. What Le Hoang Bich Phuong questions in ‘A Transformative Disguise’ are whether these masks once worn, can ever truly be removed.