Split Ends explores identity through something most of us can relate to, our hair. In Van Tran Nguyen’s new body of work, hair becomes an active entity representing geography, nationality and personal philosophy. Through video, performance, and print work the show attempts to unpack the racial baggage that gives weight to seemingly mundane objects such as hair or the food we eat. Tran’s work questions the negative personification of cultural objects or cultural markers that become stand-ins for an entire people. Pieces such as Sovereign (pictured above) succinctly capture this sentiment. The “hair flags” confront the physical embodiment of nationality and literally depict object becoming representative of person, philosophy and ideas.
Using long held notions about Asian identity the work also delves into the idea of animism, the notion that all matter has a soul. Hair becomes the “model minority” or the “submissive Asian woman”. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), another object Tran investigates in the work, becomes the “irresponsible ethnic caretaker or parent”. By imbuing hair and food with souls but having those souls live in stereotype Tran directly addresses the viewer’s ideas of human complexity. She in essence asks: if we personally do not want our entire beings reduced to what is on top of our heads or what we ate yesterday can we in good conscience do the same to an entire people?
About the Artist
Van Tran Nguyen is a Vietnamese American artist and a second year MFA student at the University at Buffalo. Her work examines products such as monosodium glutamate and hair as racially charged matter, asking questions about its significance within cultural context. She works in a variety of media including performance, video and installation.