Exhibitions

Hong-Bich Huynh Vernon: Suspended Animation

6 March – 12 April 2020

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Opening Reception Friday, 6 March from 6 – 10 pm

Marginal Utility is proud to present Suspended Animation a solo exhibition by West Chester Pennsylvania based artist Hong-Bich Huynh Vernon.

The decision to leave is a wrenching moment of abandonment compelled by unbearable circumstances into the unknown. Landing somewhere, anywhere, nowhere, the forcibly displaced are caught in a state of suspended animation between the pasts they’ve left behind and their uncertain futures, living in precarious, marginalized conditions, their sense of place and time disrupted, they wait in the in-betweenness of lives marked by boundaries, borders, walls. Asylum seeker, refugee, undocumented migrant, illegal migrant, 26 million refugees, and 41 million internally displaced, the names and numbers are abstractions, the people real.

Forty-five years ago, in April, Saigon fell, bring an end to the Vietnam War. Forty-five years ago, the ending of that war compelled my family to flee our country, leaving us uprooted from our home, our extended family, and our culture.  My family and I were in the first wave of Vietnamese refugees to the United States. Over the next twenty years, more than one and a half million Vietnamese would resettle in the United States.

Forty-five years later, I remember the moments of panic, the decision to flee, to go somewhere, elsewhere, anywhere.  I remember the fear, the journey, and the sense of suspended animation displaced first inside our country, and finally across the boundary and border into the unknown.

In her poem, “Things We Carry on the Sea’ the poet Wang Ping writes

We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother
We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts
We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats
We carry scars from proxy wars of greed
We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides
We carry dust of our families and neighbors incinerated in mushroom cloudsWe carry our islands sinking under the sea
We carry our hands, feet, bones, hearts and best minds for a new life

In these works, I explore the metaphor of suspended animation and its consequences for the displaced. The works make use of photographs of the day-to-day life of Vietnamese temporarily living in Pulau Bidong Refugee Camp in Malaysia, where I worked in the late 1980s. During the period from 1978 to 1991, a quarter of a million refugees often called “Boat People” spent years in the camp before returning to Vietnam or being resettled in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries.

We are all descendants of migrants, and it’s easy to forget that humankind has always been on the move from place to place and from past to future. Migratory by nature, we don’t have to look away, we can choose to welcome the stranger, the other, the refugee, and the migrant.

West Chester, Pa
February 25, 2020

 

 

Things We Carry on the Sea
Wang Ping

We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother
We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts
We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats
We carry scars from proxy wars of greed
We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides
We carry dust of our families and neighbors incinerated in mushroom clouds

We carry our islands sinking under the sea
We carry our hands, feet, bones, hearts and best minds for a new life
We carry diplomas: medicine, engineer, nurse, education, math, poetry, even if they mean nothing to the other shore
We carry railroads, plantations, laundromats, bodegas, taco trucks, farms, factories, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, temples…built on our ancestors’ backs
We carry old homes along the spine, new dreams in our chests
We carry yesterday, today and tomorrow
We’re orphans of the wars forced upon us
We’re refugees of the sea rising from industrial wastes
And we carry our mother tongues
爱(ai),حب  (hubb), ליבע (libe), amor, love
平安 (ping’an), سلام ( salaam), shalom, paz, peace
希望 (xi’wang), أمل (’amal), hofenung, esperanza, hope, hope, hope
As we drift…in our rubber boats…from shore…to shore…to shore…

Originally published in New American Poetry. Copyright © 2018 by Wang Ping. Used with the permission of the author.