Matt Huynh is an artist based in New York City, and his extraordinary output and wide-ranging collaborations reflects a singular vision, inspired in part by his own family’s history. Huynh’s work encompasses what he describes as interrogating ‘war, diaspora, refugees, asylum seekers and migrant communities’, and it’s these parts of his practice that are highlighted in a current exhibition at Fairfield City Museum & Gallery in Australia. Huynh’s core concerns also reflects the history of the Fairfield area, which has the highest concentration of people with Vietnamese heritage in Australia. As someone who grew up in this part of south-west Sydney, he’s one of the area’s most notable and awarded artists.
When you walk into the exhibition, you’ll see two large screens lit up with animations, both of which feature Huynh’s distinctive brushwork style using sumi-e ink. On the left is The Ark, an animation depicting a refugee boat journey which is an adaptation of text by Viet Thanh Nguyen, the prologue of the sequel to The Sympathizer. On the right is Huynh’s celebrated work bringing to life The Boat, based on the title short story of Nam Le’s collection of stories. The interactive graphic novel, which is available for free online, was commissioned by SBS in 2015 in recognition of 40 years after the fall of Saigon and 40 years of Vietnamese resettlement in Australia.
Under glass are artefacts such as storyboards and sketchbooks and on the walls are various reproductions including a poster called HOPE, which I hadn’t come across before. I was particularly interested to see the sketchbook versions of Huynh’s comic book Ma, which I’ve read numerous times as an online comic on his website. Ma is a moving and elegantly realised story set on Pulau Bidong, an imaginative retelling of the turbulent time in his family’s life before he was born. It’s a history that’s deeply familiar to thousands of us in the diaspora.
Huynh’s work continues to gain important recognition globally and it was affirming to see this exhibition of his work at the modest Fairfield City Museum & Gallery. It’s by no means an exhaustive retrospective of his work, with only a handful of his works on display, but nonetheless the exhibition accords prominence to an artist whose work not only continues to resonate in terms of our histories but articulates some of the key concerns of the world today.
Matt Huynh is showing until 21 July 2018 at Fairfield City Museum & Gallery, Australia.
Sheila Ngoc Pham is a writer, producer and broadcaster based in Sydney, Australia. She’s produced radio documentaries and programs for ABC Radio National including The Lost Cinema of Tan Hiep and Saigon’s Wartime Beat, and her writing has appeared in a wide range of Australian and international publications including The New York Times, Roads and Kingdoms, Womankind and New Philosopher. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation and lectures in public health ethics at Macquarie University.
Sheila Ngoc Pham is a contributing editor to diaCRITICS for stories of and from the Vietnamese Australian diaspora.